JEFFERSON CITY — A political action committee supporting state Sen. Andrew Koenig accepted $50,000 last week from a Washington, D.C., group that supports expanding charter schools, according to state ethics commission records.
Including the contribution to Koenig, the American Federation for Children, formerly chaired by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has poured $670,000 into Missouri races this year after legislators have continued to block efforts to allow more charter school options in the state.
By comparison, the group spent $200,000 in Missouri in all of 2018, the year of the last general election.
While proponents view charters as innovative alternatives to public schools, critics say the operations drain money from local districts. The issue is one of the most hotly contested in the Legislature, with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats scuttling recent expansion efforts.
Koenig is locked in a tight reelection race against state Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, in a legislative district that includes all or parts of Ballwin, Chesterfield, Kirkwood, Sunset Hills, Valley Park and other municipalities.
The 15th Senate District also includes some of the highest-rated public school districts in the state, covering all or parts of the Kirkwood, Lindbergh, Valley Park, Rockwood, Parkway, Mehlville and Hancock Place school districts.
Currently, charter schools only operate in St. Louis and Kansas City. A proposal this year would have allowed the schools to operate in any charter county — St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Jackson counties — or in any city with more than 30,000 residents.
Casey Burns, campaign manager for Koenig, wouldn’t say whether the incumbent supports expanding charter schools in St. Louis County and specifically the 15th Senate District.
“Senator Koenig has consistently been an advocate for Missouri kids, unlike his opponent — who has opposed every single K-12 budget bill since taking office,” Burns said. “Andrew has voted in favor of public education budgets with record level funding throughout his tenure in Jefferson City.”
Lavender said she has voted against the budget bills because the Legislature hadn’t allocated enough money to public education.
Regarding the contribution to Koenig’s Freedom’s Promise PAC, Lavender said: “I would not have been offered a donation from this source and neither would I have accepted that.
“Their model is to support and proliferate charter schools, and we have a fabulous public education here in Senate District 15,” she said.
Burns criticized a $10,000 contribution Lavender’s Purple PAC received in June from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 union, which Burns said supports the Black Lives Matter movement’s “radical calls to defund the police.”
Lavender has said she doesn’t support defunding the police.
Proponents of charter schools have aggressively pushed school choice legislation in the Legislature in recent years.
A proposal Koenig sponsored last year would have created a new 100% state tax credit capped at $25 million per year for taxpayer contributions to third-party organizations.
The proposal would have established the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. In addition to allowing parents to use the money to finance their child’s elementary and secondary education at a school of their choice, it would have changed the way students can transfer from low-performing districts and schools.
The measure would affect school districts throughout the St. Louis region, including the 23,000-student St. Louis Public Schools, the Ferguson-Florissant district, as well as Normandy, Parkway, Wentzville and the Francis Howell district in St. Charles County.
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