JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday passed a charter school bill, taking Missouri one step closer to becoming the 31st state that allows charter schools.
The bill is different from the one approved by the House Education Committee on Tuesday because it would allow public charter schools to be established in any school district in the state, not just Kansas City or St. Louis.
In districts such as Columbia's, which has a high school graduation rate higher than 65 percent, only the local school board would have the power to approve a charter school application.
Charter school advocates explain charter schools as publicly funded, nonsectarian schools established by parents, teachers or interested citizens. The local, state and federal funds would follow the student to the charter school. In return for being freed from many of the state's regulations, the school would have to show its students had adequate test scores or it would be shut down.
Debate by members of the committee centered on whether introducing such competition to existing public schools would be a good idea, with proponents arguing it would be, but opponents arguing such a move would create a two-tiered education system.
Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, voted against the bill, which passed the committee, 8-3.
"There's all this talk about competition for schools," Jacob said. "In any competition, you have a winner and a loser. This competition is not good for public schools."
The senators also discussed whether the charter schools should be exempt from many state regulations that the public schools would still have to follow.
Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, voted in favor of the bill but said he had concerns that waiving state education regulations only for charter schools would create "a second infrastructure."
"If we think rules and regulations are a bad thing, then let's have that discussion," he said.
But Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, said it was time for the committee to act.
"What's so wrong about wanting to improve education for your child?" Goode asked. "This is where we have to stop being so idealistic. This will help improve educational opportunities."
"The best thing about this is it may allow some innovate programs to get off the ground," Goode said.
The bill next moves to the Senate, for debate by all 35 Senate members.
Chris Sifford, spokesman for Gov. Mel Carnahan, said the governor is generally supportive of charter schools anywhere in the state, "as long as the local school board has involvement in the chartering process."