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Published in Print: May 2, 2001, as Missouri Eyes Earmarking Money For Charter School Oversight

Missouri Eyes Earmarking Money For Charter School Oversight

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Missouri is poised to become the first state to earmark money specifically for charter school sponsors to oversee such schools, national charter school experts say.

Details of the legislation, which would provide a total of about $750,000 to the school districts and higher education institutions authorized to sponsor charter schools in the state, were being hashed out in a state House-Senate conference committee late last week.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Bill Kenney, a Republican, said it would create a fairer financing system for charter schools and the entities that oversee them.

"We wanted to improve education in Missouri, specifically in the Kansas City school district," Sen. Kenney said. "If we want to do that, we ought to provide funds."

The idea won the praise of national charter school advocates, including Jon Schroeder, the director of the Charter Friends National Network in St. Paul, Minn.

"Sponsors need the money to do their job," said Mr. Schroeder. "The specific appropriation proposed in a state with diverse charter sponsors is a very significant development, and I'm sure other states will watch closely."

'Upfront Investment'

Under current Missouri law, sponsors must use their own money to cover the cost of overseeing charter schools. Sponsors of the state's nearly two dozen charter schools include five state colleges and universities, as well as the Kansas City and St. Louis school systems—the only districts in which state law allows charter schools. Kansas City enrolls some 5,800 of the state's 7,000 charter school students, according to the Learning Exchange Charter School Partnership, a nonprofit charter school resource center and policy institute in Kansas City.

The bill comes at a turbulent time for the Kansas City schools, which face a possible state takeover.

The bill would provide sponsors about $23,400 for each school they oversee, plus about $35 more for every student the school enrolls, Mr. Kenney said. Missouri charter school sponsors and advocacy groups have been lobbying lawmakers not to take sponsorship funding out of the per-pupil operating revenues for charter schools.

National charter school experts said financing beyond charter schools' operating budgets is needed to provide proper oversight of the administratively independent but publicly financed schools.

"It symbolizes the understanding that it will take an upfront investment to help sponsors learn how to be good advisers," said Paul T. Hill, the director of the Seattle-based Center for Reinventing Public Education. "It's obviously a heck of a good idea. I have not heard of an express appropriation for that purpose before."

Vol. 20, Issue 33, Page 24

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