Citizens of the World, a Kansas City charter school, is pictured July 10, 2021.
Citizens of the World Elementary, a Kansas City charter school, is pictured July 10, 2021. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

For years, charter school educators and families in Kansas City and St. Louis have alleged their schools were being shortchanged in funding. Thanks to a new state law, their schools may soon see an increase in the dollars they receive from the state annually for each of their students. 

In Missouri, charter schools have been funded based on a formula that used a fixed property tax value from 2005, while property tax funding for traditional public school districts has increased based on current values. Charter school advocates have called the outdated funding model a “glitch” in the system that has left charter schools receiving less per student than public schools. 

Lawmakers on Wednesday delivered HB 1552, sponsored by Rep. Doug Richey, R- Excelsior Springs, to Gov. Mike Parson for his signature. Aided by a historically large budget, legislators voted to update the formula after various concerns about the bill appeared to be resolved. 

The state’s school funding model takes into account local taxes and the average daily attendance rates in a charter school or district. According to the bill’s fiscal note, an average of 17,400 students attend the Kansas City Public Schools district. The district receives roughly $10,500 per student. 

Under the current formula — the one tied to 2005 property tax values — charter schools in Kansas City receive $8,250 in funding per student. If Parson signs the bill, they will receive the same amount per student as KCPS — more than $2,000 more per student.

The state could be picking up a significant tab. The bill’s fiscal analysis calculates the spending increase at $62 million in the next budget year and up to $74 million of additional spending in fiscal year 2023. 

Months of collaboration yield end result

Douglas Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, said the bill was the result of a long legislative process, but he believes that students in Missouri charter schools will now be receiving the equal resources they deserve. 

“It’s a great thing,” Thaman said. “It’s great for the kids because they are going to receive equitable funding for their education.” 

Thaman added that the bill was a result of years of collaboration among stakeholders. 

“Working through compromises like that? That’s the great work that the legislature should do. And so the fact that they did do that and brought about support from all sides of the aisle, that’s great,” he said. “It really does show that that legislative process works. And in the end, we have children who are going to benefit greatly.” 

An earlier version of the bill put school districts and some educators on high alert. That bill would have required school districts in whose boundaries charter schools are located to pay the cost of the increased charter school funding. That worried many House Democrats, who warned against the potential of pitting districts against charter schools and redistributing already scarce resources. 

The earlier version of the bill would have required KCPS to funnel over $8.2 million to the charters that sit within district boundaries. 

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, originally opposed the bill while expressing those concerns. But she spoke in strong support of the legislation during its final vote.

“You have worked tirelessly on this piece of legislation,” Nurrenbern said to Richey. “And what I appreciate about what you’ve done is you truly listened, not just to legislators in this body, but to the folks who came to the Capitol to make their voices heard.” 

Nurrenbern added: “As a teacher in charter schools, as a teacher in traditional public schools, as a mom to three kiddos in our public school, I think this is a good piece of legislation for all kids in our state.”

The bill added a number of other provisions for the way Missouri’s charter schools run. Under the legislation, board members for the state’s charter schools must be Missouri residents, charter school companies must be nonprofits (although none in Missouri are currently for-profit) and test scores must be posted online. 

The bill would also give Missouri’s parents more control over the ability to enroll their children in virtual learning. Until now, that decision has primarily belonged to school districts. 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...