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Missouri Charter Public School Commission wants to ensure quality, raise the bar in public education

John Wright, Robbyn Wahby and Alicia Herald joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh.
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

There are almost 70 charter schools in St. Louis and Kansas City. Until recently, they were all sponsored by universities. Now another alternative is the Missouri Charter Public School Commission.

Although created by the Missouri legislature in 2012, it didn’t have its first meeting until December of last year. Then at the end of March, Robbyn Wahby was named executive director and left her position as St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s top education adviser to assume her new role.

Wahby explained to “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh that charter schools are free, open public schools, but they are independent of the school district in which they are located. “They have a non-profit board that determines their mission, their goals and looks at how they are going to use their resources, their human capital and their financial resources to make sure that the kids in their care get a great education.”

According to state law, charter schools are limited to St. Louis and Kansas City and any unaccredited district or one that has been provisionally accredited for three or more years. Funding for them comes from the state based on the number of pupils in the school.

Veteran educator and commission member John Wright commented that quality is the first priority in chartering a school. “We have to ensure we provide quality alternatives for parents, not just the same duplication. If we do the same thing the public schools are doing, we have failed as a commission.”

Commission chair Alicia Herald suggested there can be  cooperation between charter and district schools. “If there is an innovative practice or something that we’re learning at one of our charter schools, we should be sharing that back and forth because ultimately we’re in the business of providing great opportunities for every child.”

Charter schools by nature have built in accountability. Before a charter is granted, the commission must approve a contract that spells out the mission and academic standards. Said Wahby, “We do annual visits and we hold them accountable on a series of reports and our own communication with them, and eventually they have to respond with new practices and programs or we can shut them down.”

In response to the charge that charter schools somehow undermine the district schools, Herald said, “I don’t think the purpose of charter schools is ever to undermine the district. But our hope is that if there are more quality seats, parents make the choice that is best for their children to get into one of those schools, and ultimately it should raise the bar for all schools everywhere.” 

“When parents are involved, the bar generally goes up, Wright added. “You just can’t sit on the sideline waiting for Superman, you have to begin to get involved yourself.”

Wahby observed that families with means have always had choice. “So what charter schools provide are public choice and they provide them in the location where families live so families don’t have to uproot themselves, sell their house or find a new apartment to find a good school.”

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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Mary Edwards is a producer for St. Louis Public Radio's broadcast program, "St. Louis Symphony."