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A New Day for Charter Schools in Missouri?

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As their legislative session draws to a close, Missouri lawmakers have approved a measure that would open the door to the growth of charter schools—currently confined to Kansas City and St. Louis—to districts around the state.

The legislation, approved by the state's House of Representatives earlier this week by a vote of 99-54, now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. A spokesman would not say if the governor will sign the measure into law.

This appears to have been another busy year on the charter school front in statehouses. Michigan Gov. Rick Synder, a Republican, this week signed into a law a measure to expand cyber charter schools. In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley gave her blessing to a bill that allows higher education institutions to authorize charters. Not all the state-level efforts to spawn charters fared that well. Efforts to create or expand charters floundered in Alabama and Mississippi, as my colleague Andrew Ujifusa recently reported.

To date, Missouri law has allowed charters in St. Louis and Kansas City because of those districts' low academic performance. The legislation would allow charters to expand to other districts that lose state accreditation, and to districts that are provisionally accredited. In districts that have not been saddled with those designations, charters could be established if they are backed by local school boards

The Missouri legislation has made its way through the Capitol on the heels of the state deciding to close a group of charter schools in St. Louis that had struggled academically and financially. That decision sparked controversy in the community among those who said the options for students seeking to transfer from those schools were unduly restrictive.

The measure also would create new oversight of charters, including the provisions that allow the state to audit charters. The state board of education would be required to evaluate charter sponsors, and the measure would give the board the power to order corrective actions, including removing a sponsor's oversight. It also establishes new requirements for charters to report on their academic performance, finances, and operations.

"Missouri's charter school community welcomes the increased-autonomy-for-increased-accountability bargain that is at the heart of the charter school model," said Douglas Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Public Charter School Association, in a statement. "Missouri's charter schools work tirelessly every day toward a high quality public education for students from very diverse backgrounds."

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