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Charter School Expansion

November 17, 2020
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley

The number of public charter schools in Missouri has almost doubled since 2008. Seventy-three public charter schools currently operate in only two Missouri public school districts — Kansas City and St. Louis. Supporters of charter school expansion argue that having more schools gives families the opportunity to choose what best fits their needs, while putting pressure on low-performing schools to improve or close. Opponents argue that increasing charter school density does not increase academic achievement but, rather, increases school segregation and leads to inefficient spending of limited resources. A substantial body of research explains what we know about the effects of charter school expansion on student achievement, spending and equity.

Highlights

  • There is no evidence that, on average, increasing school choice options via charter school expansion leads to significantly better academic achievement (e.g., test scores) in charter schools or traditional public schools.
  • States typically increase education spending as school density increases. Despite higher costs, funding for public non-charter schools often decreases as more charter schools open.
  • Charter schools are typically associated with increased segregation by race and income. While many minoritized families support school choice, these groups tend to be limited by school location and are disproportionately affected by charter school closures.

Limitations

  • There is not enough research to determine the “optimal” number of school buildings within a district. This figure likely varies based on the regional context, the features of charter school systems (e.g., funding, authorization, accountability), and the availability of other forms of school choice (e.g., magnet schools, private school vouchers).
  • It is difficult to establish a causal relationship between charter school openings and changes in student performance. Enrollment biases occur based on the location of new buildings and whether the school enrolls a disproportionate number of low- or high-achieving students.
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