School choice can refer to any program that offers families the opportunity to choose the school their child will attend, rather than the school attached to the geographical boundary of their residence. Commonly, school choice offers students the chance to enroll in other public schools, private schools or charter schools. They may offer families tax credits and deductions for school-related expenses, vouchers – the use of government money to pay private school tuition – and homeschooling options.
Charter schools in metropolitan St. Louis are public schools funded by tax dollars but run by their own individual boards, independent of the school district in which they are geographically located. While traditional schools are managed under the administrative umbrella of their school district, charter schools find their own facilities, and recruit a sponsor agency or organization, usually a local area non-profit or university, to provide oversight. Missouri laws enacted in 1998 have allowed for charter schools in both the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas. (See Missouri Revised Statutes, August 28, 2009, Chapter 160, Section 160.400).
Nine charter schools began the 2009-2010 school year in St. Louis, but one, Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy, lost its sponsor over financial issues. The school’s 800 students completed the year as part of St. Louis Public Schools. Although the community had hopes of charter schools improving local options for quality schools, none of the St. Louis charter schools has been able to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
In 2009-2010, the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) had 26,108 students while city charter schools had 9,211 resulting in a total of 35,319 students. Projections for 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 show the following:
Mayor Francis G. Slay’s office (City of St. Louis) is a proponent of charter schools. The office expects about three new charter schools per year through 2013 in St. Louis and notes that one or more existing charter may go out of business in this time frame.1
Local St. Louis magnet schools operate under the auspices of their geographical school district, but focus their curriculum on a specialized function, such as Kennard Classical Junior Academy, a “talented and gifted” elementary school magnet and Central Visual & Performing Arts High School.
The Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) had overseen the local desegregation program since 1981 but the program is slated to slow their enrollment and eventually cease operation. The VICC facilitates the transfer of St. Louis City students to suburban school districts and suburban students to magnet schools within the City’s boundaries.
1Interview with Robbyn Wahby, Executive Assistant for Education for the Mayor’s Office, on January 20, 2010.