JEFFERSON CITY • A bill that could expand charter schools statewide while making it easier to weed out under-performing ones is on its way to the governor’s desk.

The Missouri House passed the bill Tuesday on a vote of 99-54. The Senate passed it earlier, 31-2.

Gov. Jay Nixon has not said whether he will sign it. In his "State of the State" speech in January, he called for tougher accountability standards for charter schools but did not talk about expanding them.

Charter schools are independent public schools, funded by taxpayers but freed from district regulation and encouraged to experiment with curriculum. Currently, they are confined to St. Louis and Kansas City.

Supporters said letting the nontraditional schools open throughout the state would spur creativity in classrooms and give parents more choices.

Other provisions -- for example, setting standards for the school's sponsors and requiring the schools to sign formal performance contracts -- will make the schools more accountable, supporters said.

The bill "will make sure there is transparency and openness and will give students a better chance at succeeding," said Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis.

Opponents said charter schools, as a group, had performed no better than the traditional public schools in their districts. In some cases, their academic performance was worse.

“We need to look at this before we expand the pool of what we’re trying to do,” said Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills.

If Nixon signs the new legislation, charter schools could be established in any school district that loses accreditation and, after a three-year waiting period, in districts that are provisionally accredited and not making progress toward accreditation.

Charter schools also could be set up in accredited districts, but only when established by the local school board.

(The bill is SB576.)

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