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St. Louis Board of Education asks court to block new charter high school

The St. Louis Public Schools’ headquarters on Tuesday, July 11, 2023, in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Public Schools’ headquarters in July in downtown St. Louis.

Updated at 9:25 a.m. Nov. 10 to include comment from Believe STL Academy’s founder.

The St. Louis Public Schools Board of Education filed a petition Thursday to try to block a new charter high school from opening in the city.

The lawsuit claims the charter school’s organizers did not give proper notice to SLPS’s board in its application process, which is required by state law. The Board of Education says that without notice, it was denied its right to “provide timely objections to the charter application.”

The charter, Believe STL Academy, would be a St. Louis replication of an Indianapolis charter school of the same name. In application materials, the founders say it would start with 9th grade students in the 2024-25 school year and eventually expand to all high school grades. In its application, the school projected enrollment of 440 students in its fourth school year. Founders plan to open the school somewhere in the central corridor, to make it accessible to families across the city.

In a written statement, the charter’s founder and executive director Kimberly Neal-Brannum denied the allegations that she did not give proper notice to SLPS.

“We are confident that we followed the law and have repeatedly sought to engage the St. Louis Public School District alongside the many community partners and families who are eager for this new and innovative school,” Neal-Brannum said.

Missouri’s State Board of Education approved the charter’s application at its Oct. 17 meeting. The charter is sponsored by the Missouri Charter Public School Commission. The Opportunity Trust is also a backer of the school and has pledged a $600,000 grant.

The SLPS Board of Education is opposed to the opening of new schools in the city, including charter schools. In the petition, the board writes, “school choice programs continue to create a system of schools and programs that fight over a declining population of children and a shrinking pool of resources, leading to duplicated services and system-wide inefficiencies.”

There are 21 district and charter high schools in the city, with an average enrollment of 355 students each, according to SLPS. SLPS Board President Antionette “Toni” Cousins said the city’s declining population should be considered in applications to open new schools.

“The population for the city of St. Louis has dropped significantly,” Cousins said. “We have more than enough schools.”

The petition was filed in the city’s 22nd Judicial Circuit Court. The board named the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, Believe STL Academy and the Missouri State Board of Education as defendants.

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Kate Grumke covers the environment for St. Louis Public Radio.