I’ll be in Jeff City today to testify in favor of Senate Bill 564, which — among other things — would allow the Mayor of the City of St. Louis to authorize charter schools here.
I want more charter schools in St. Louis for three very simple reasons.
First, far too many children in the City of St. Louis are growing up right now with very little chance of being prepared by the St. Louis public school district to get good jobs. And without the jobs, they will most likely face lives of poverty. Changing the entire public school district certainly remains an important priority, but that will take years — time lost for children right now.
Second, most parents want what is best for their kids and will make hard choices on their kids’ behalf. In too many cases, those choices have historically involved leaving the City to find good public schools in other places. Existing charter schools in the City have long waiting lists. Parents need more charter schools now.
Third, the taxpayers in the State of Missouri and City of St. Louis have spent billions of dollars on public education in St. Louis. We have received very little value for our money. I do not think that is right. Good charter schools, which are public schools supported by taxpayers, will offer more value right away.
St. Louis and Kansas City are the only two communities where public charter schools are an option in our State. In Kansas City, nearly one in five children in public schools are enrolled in charter schools. In St. Louis, it is a little more than one in ten. Clearly, there is an untapped demand in St. Louis — if we provide quality options.
Fortunately, there are some national models with proven track records. Several are interested in St. Louis. Unfortunately, these educators lack one essential ingredient: a willing sponsor.
St. Louis lacks willing sponsors. St. Louis Public Schools have rejected all but one charter school, Construction Careers Center. Harris Stowe and the St. Louis Community College have stated publicly that they will not sponsor charter schools. UMSL, UMR and SEMO have all declined additional sponsorship opportunities. Saint Louis University, Webster University, and Washington University are also eligible to sponsor, but have yet to sponsor a school. The only new charters are being sponsored by Missouri Baptist University. It is my understanding that they feel they have reached their capacity for now. That is why I am seeking the authority for the City’s mayor to sponsor schools. (And let me be clear I am seeking the authority to sponsor charter schools not to operate them.)
In order to meet the demands of families who want to live in the City and want to use public schools right now, we must open quality charter schools. In order to meet the needs of many of our children, we must provide unique models — schools with longer school days, longer school years, serious parental engagement, and 21st century academics.
The possibilities are exciting: A drop-out recovery school. Schools that focus on math, science and technology. Perhaps using the arts and foreign languages to strengthen achievement. Schools focused on the careers in our region, our state, and in the global economy.
Quality public education is essential if our City is to continue our renaissance. Businesses, neighborhoods, parents and, most importantly, our children need good public schools right now.
SB 564 is one of the many steps necessary to reaching that goal — and that is what I am going to tell the senators.