A private elementary school in St. Louis says it will convert to a public charter school for the 2019-20 school year.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Soulard School, which opened in 2005, will become a public school to improve its finances.
Sarah Christman, the school’s co-founder and executive director, says Soulard receives an average of $4,500 a year in tuition from its 100 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. With access to federal, state and local funding, it will receive closer to $8,300 per student.
“Financially, it makes sense for sustainability,” Christman says. “We never wanted to be a big, fancy private school. We wanted to be accessible."
The initial rapid pace of charter openings in Missouri has slowed since 2000 as sponsors, typically universities or the state commission, have become more selective, officials say. But there is room for growth, says Bill Mendelsohn, executive director of the charter schools office at University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The University of Missouri-St. Louis is the sponsor for Soulard School's charter, the school's charter application states.
“There are not enough high-quality schools in the city, and that includes charter schools,” Mendelsohn says. “I root for St. Louis Public Schools to be successful and want nothing more than for (the district) to offer a quality seat for every child in the city. They’re not there yet.”
Soulard will become just the second private school to convert to charter status in St. Louis. La Salle Middle School, a former Catholic school in north St. Louis, reopened as a charter in 2016.
Charter schools require open enrollment for city residents; most of the current Soulard School students are expected to stay. About 10 students commute from outside the city and won’t return.
The school hopes to grow to 120 students and has openings for the fall in second through fifth grades, says Christman.
The director is confident that Soulard will succeed under state performance standards by avoiding the “first-year woes” of most charter schools.