Emily Stahly

I grew up in a small town where several elementary and middle schools funneled into a single high school. While this arrangement was great for fostering a sense of community, it was not without its downsides. The community had put all of its eggs in one basket. If that high school hadn’t worked for students, families would have been stuck without any other options.

Unfortunately, this situation faces 17 school districts in Missouri. According to state accreditation standards, not every school in a district has to perform above 70 percent on the annual performance review to keep accreditation—just the district as a whole. This system has left kids in failing schools while keeping alternatives like charter schools out of the area. Recent proposals in the Missouri legislature could help solve this problem.

A few weeks ago, the Missouri House of Representatives passed HB634. A similar bill is now in the Senate. While HB634 does not allow charter schools to open everywhere in the state, it would increase the number of districts where charter schools could open. One section of the law targets districts with underperforming schools, and would allow charter schools:

In any school district in which at least one school building has received a score of sixty percent or less on its annual performance report for two of the three most recent annual performance reports available as of the date on which a charter school applies to open a charter school in the district under this subdivision.

Based on the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Annual Performance Reports, 97 schools in 29 school districts would fit this criterion, including Kansas City and Saint Louis (where charter schools already operate) and the Normandy Schools Collaborative (which is unaccredited but does not have a charter school yet). Thus, this rule would add 26 new school districts to those where charter schools can operate currently:

School Districts with at Least One "Failing" School*
CalhounHazelwoodPoplar BluffSlater
Cape GirardeauHickman MillsPurdySouthland
ColumbiaJefferson CityRitenourSaint Joseph
Ferguson-FlorissantJenningsRiverview GardensWright City
HaytiNew MadridSikeston 
*A failing school is defined in HB 634 as scoring 60% or less on its Annual Performance Report for 2 of the 3 most recent years.

Certainly, it is a cause for concern that Missouri has so many districts with chronically underperforming schools. There is another problem, however, with failing schools being the only option in some of these districts.

Out of these 29 districts, 17 have “chokepoints”—schools that every student in the district will have to attend—that have been rated as failing in two of the last three years. Normandy is one such district; the others are the districts in bold in the table above. Most of the chokepoint schools are middle schools and junior high schools.

Children in these communities have no choice but to spend some part of their education career in a school that the state deems failing. Families in these districts and across Missouri deserve better options for their kids. 

About the Author

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Emily Stahly

Emily Stahly is a research assistant at the Show-Me Institute. She earned her B.A. in politics from Hillsdale College in Michigan and is researching education with the Show-Me Institute.