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The Missouri Legislature made history on May 12 by fixing the inequity in charter public school funding in a way that will benefit every public school student in St. Louis and Kansas City. 

The bill will infuse $62 million of new state money into charter public schools in both cities starting this fall. The new funding will help pay teacher salaries, buy new technology and provide essential classroom supplies in schools that serve more than 25,000 children in our state’s largest urban areas. Meanwhile, existing funding for district schools in both cities will remain constant. 

Why it matters

From the time the first charter public schools in Missouri opened their doors in 1999, they have received funding based on a formula that provided less funding per student than district schools received. For St. Louis charter public schools, the difference is $2,500 less per student.

In addition to less funding per student, charter public schools often must find and finance facilities through private lenders. These inequities have forced charter public school leaders to spend considerable time and resources fundraising to meet baseline needs for children.

Despite these challenges, students in St. Louis’s charter schools are demonstrating stronger reading and math skills than students in district schools. In 2021, 26% of charter school students demonstrated proficiency in English, versus 18% of students in district schools, according to results from the Missouri Assessment Program. In math, the percentages were 15% and 10%, respectively. 

Doing what is right for kids

The Kansas City Public Schools played an important role by advocating to fix the funding glitch as a matter of fairness, since charter school enrollment represents half of the public school population in Kansas City. In St. Louis, charter school enrollment makes up 40% of the overall public school population.

They joined a broad coalition in support of this legislation that included business and civic organizations in both metropolitan areas — The Opportunity Trust, School Smart KC, Quality Schools Coalition, the Missouri Charter Public School Association, and ultimately, the Missouri National Education Association

Throughout the process, Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, was a consistent advocate for children and families in the city of St. Louis and he was a critical player in getting us to a final bill that was good for everyone. He was later joined by nearly every Kansas City and St. Louis legislator in both parties. 

Other big wins for children

Other aspects of the legislation are also big wins for public school students. It increases charter school accountability. It prohibits for-profit organizations from managing charter schools. And it requires that test scores be posted on the school’s website, providing necessary transparency for parents. 

Another education bill that received less attention but equally important, requires schools to test drinking water for lead and take action to protect children. The bill emphasizes literacy as a core skill. It requires schools to identify and provide reading success plans to any student with a substantial deficiency. This bill also passed with wide, bipartisan support. 

What’s next

This is the first step of many that needs to be taken to create conditions for all of our kids to thrive. Let’s make more progress next year to ensure even more children go to schools that are equitably funded and held accountable for children’s growth and learning.