“Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul”
By BYRON CLEMENS
Special to Labor Tribune
Jefferson City – A parent’s sign said it all – “Don’t Rob Peter to Pay Paul.”
The sign, displayed by parent (and union member) Carron Johnson, hammered home her message delivered on the Capitol steps: Missouri legislators should not take $18 million from the St. Louis Public Schools and turn it over to privately managed charter schools. The rally capped the “Parents Legislative Day of Action” engaging elected officials on public school issues.
A group of parents, clergy, elected school board members and union officials traveled by bus, van and car on Feb. 9 and gathered at Missouri’s State Capital to voice their concerns to the legislature and hold a rally on the capitol steps in support of the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS).
The group was drawing attention to two bills recently voted out of committee that would rob public schools to support charter schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers. The bills are HB1552, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Richey, a Republican from Excelsior Springs (about 30 miles north of Kansas City) and SB869, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester). Neither Richey nor Koenig have charter schools in their school districts.
The St. Louis Public Schools district receives more money per student than the area’s charter schools – which are publicly funded but privately operated – through a funding formula that sends more state dollars to charter schools and more local tax dollars to public schools.
The Parents Action Council maintains:
- The bills would divert voter-approved tax dollars from SLPS to charter schools for services the charter schools do not provide.
- Special education and transportation costs would be required of SLPS but not of charters.
- Charters do not have the same level of accountability and governance of elected officials overseeing local taxpayers’ dollars.
‘IT COMES AT A COST’
“There is nothing fair or equitable about an $18 million loss to our district.” said Parent Action Council President Emily Koelstow, adding that it was unfair to allocate local tax revenue without the consent of district voters.
SLPS is not the only district that would be harmed. The same issues would occur in Normandy Collaborative Schools if the legislation becomes law.
Matt Davis, SLPS Board of Education secretary and Legislative Committee chair, said, “It is our responsibility, and it is our privilege to provide individual and targeted services to our students, no matter how challenging.
“However, it comes at a cost,” Davis said. “It takes far more funding to provide the services required to educate a child with severe needs or to bridge the gap for students with fewer resources.”
The Parent Action Council contingent was recognized in the House of Representatives by Representative Peter Meredith (D-St. Louis) and in the Senate by Senator Karla May (D-St. Louis area) and Senator Angela Mosely (D-St. Louis County).
The parents and educators held frank and vigorous discussions with several legislators, including a handful of Democrats who have indicated they may vote with the GOP majority, and highlighted the progress the district has made in the past 13 years, including regaining accreditation and returning power to an elected board of education.
The following day, representatives of the parents, elected board, SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams, AFT St. Louis Local 420, AFT Missouri and the Missouri AFL-CIO submitted committee testimony in opposition to SB869.
According to SLPS, there is significant bipartisan support for “carving out” St. Louis Public Schools from the legislation in the House and Senate.
Delegates to the St. Louis Labor Council were updated on the situation Feb. 15 and encouraged to voice their opinions on SB869 to their Missouri state senators and HB1552 to their Missouri state representatives.
(Byron Clemens is the press spokesperson for AFT St. Louis, Local 420, AFL-CIO.)
Expenses and services at St. Louis Public Schools
Some examples of the services provided and expenses incurred by St. Louis Public Schools that charter schools do not have:
- SLPS offers a comprehensive, free preschool program.
- SLPS educates about 90 percent of the homeless students in the city.
- The district provides transportation to all schools; only about half of charter schools voluntarily provide transportation.
- SLPS’ rate of students in special education is 15 percent. The average in charter schools is 12 percent.
- All teachers in SLPS must be certified. Only 80 percent of teachers in charter schools are certified.