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House passes alternative method of instruction bill

The House of Representatives approved HB281 & 570 (Kelley). Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, a district would not be required to make up any hours of school lost or canceled due to exceptional or emergency circumstances if the district uses an alternative method of instruction plan approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Exceptional or emergency circumstances include inclement weather, utility outage, or outbreak of a contagious disease. Local school districts would have the ability to decide if they would like to submit a plan for approval.

The plan submitted to DESE for approval must include the following:

The way the district intends to strengthen and reinforce instructional content while supporting student learning outside the classroom environment

The process the district intends to use to communicate to students and parents the decision to implement alternative methods of instruction on any day of a closure

The manner in which the district intends to communicate the purpose and expectations for a day in which alternative methods of instruction will be implemented to students and parents

The assignments and materials to be used within the district for days in which alternative methods of instruction will be implemented to effectively facilitate teaching and support learning for the benefit of the students

The way student attendance will be determined for a day in which alternative methods of instruction will be implemented. The method chosen must be linked to completion of lessons and activities

The instructional methods, which must include instruction through electronic means and instruction through other means for students who have no access to internet services or a computer

Instructional plans for students with individualized education programs

The role and responsibility of certified personnel to be available to communicate with students

Two amendments to the bill were added on the floor of the House; one limited the use of alternative method of instruction time to 36 hours, the other included the ability to utilize the program for days lost due to excessive heat. The bill now moves to the Senate.

MSTA supports this legislation. At the MSTA Assembly of Delegates, a resolution was approved to support allowing districts to voluntarily use an alternative method of instruction. 

DESE creates teacher workforce outreach plan

In an effort to address teacher shortages in particular content areas and geographic locations as well as increasing retention rates of teachers currently working, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has established teacher workforce outreach plan.

The plan is divided into three phases. DESE has been collecting data from teachers and administrators about recruitment challenges and reason why teachers leave their positions. The No. 1 challenge that surfaced is low compensation for teachers.  Other issues related to recruitment are lack of candidates, location of the school, and low-quality candidates.  Other reasons why teachers don’t return to these positions include retirement, relocation, different career choices and workload issues.

Phase two focuses on the formulation of strategies based on issues as evidenced by the data collected in phase one.  This will include engagement with key stakeholder groups to review themes, develop possible solutions, and then prioritize strategies to address recruitment and retention issues. The solutions will be based on practical and realistic considerations.

Phase three is where implementation takes place. The goal is to empower a broad group of key stakeholders to review, discuss and engage in the strategies outlined in phase two.  Recommendations will be made to the State Board of Education, and roles will be outlined for key stakeholders in order to implement the strategies.

The plan includes a very robust timeline for each phase. The data collection phase is close to being completed and nearly all of the data collected has been compiled.  Phase two will be completed over the summer and into the fall with the goal of having a prioritized list of strategies completed by Dec. 1, 2019.  The implementation outlined in phase three will start after the State Board Meeting in January 2020 with roles and responsibilities of implementing the strategies outlined by March 2020.

Research has consistently shown that the most important factor in the quality of education for students is the quality of their teacher.  Recruiting and retaining high quality individuals to teach students is a key function of this effort. Increasing the number of candidates in the teacher education pipeline and increasing teacher retention are two ways to address the shortage areas that we are facing in Missouri. MSTA will continue to work with members and DESE on this plan.

Senate passes bill creating education pilot programs

SB218 (Hoskins) was passed by the Missouri Senate.  The bill includes two new voluntary pilot programs for elementary schools. 

The first program created in the bill would provide mental and emotional health education in elementary schools.  The purpose of the program would be to determine whether and how to implement an elementary mental and emotional health education program statewide.

DESE would select at least 16 public elementary schools to participate in the program. The local school board of a selected school must agree to implement and fully fund an elementary mental and emotional health program for at least three years. The school may employ a mental and emotional health teacher to provide such program for the elementary school. DESE and the local districts must collaborate to establish the instructional models for each program. The model is required to be grade-appropriate and include instruction on how to set and achieve positive goals, utilize coping strategies to handle stress, and offer an increased emphasis on protective factors, such as problem-solving skills, social support, and social connectedness through positive relationships and teamwork.

DESE will provide a program evaluation regarding the success and impact of the pilot program and will report the results of the evaluation to the legislature. No school district will be required to participate in the program.

The second pilot program that would be created under the bill would be to provide agriculture education in elementary schools in Missouri. DESE would be tasked with developing an application process for elementary schools that would like to participate in the program. The department would then select at least 16 schools to participate in the program. The local school board must agree to implement and fully fund the program for at least three years.

DESE and local districts will collaborate to establish the instructional model for schools in the program that includes grade-appropriate instruction, collaborative learning experiences through investigation and inquiry, including laboratory and site-based learning activities as well as leadership and career development opportunities.

Through the agricultural education section, DESE will provide a program evaluation regarding the success and impact of the pilot program upon completion of the third year and will report the results to the Missouri General Assembly.

Senate Committee approves budget

Against an ever-growing concern about lagging state revenues for the current fiscal year, the Senate Appropriations Committee gave approval to the $30 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year. As of close of business April 16, state tax receipts were $195 million behind last year, or -2.76%.

Full funding for the foundation formula that funds K-12 schools is one step closer to being fully funded.  The Senate Appropriations Committee agreed with the position taken by the House of Representatives and Gov. Mike Parson to add $61 million to the formula in order to keep it fully funded.  Other line items where the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed with the House position include adding money for Parents as Teachers ($3 million), K-3 reading assessment ($400,000), school safety training grants ($300,000), pre-school quality assurance ($319,000).

The Senate proposal differed from the House position on funding for school transportation. The House voted to increase funding by $5 million and the Senate proposal is to increase this by $10 million. The Senate proposal also calls for increases to dyslexia training ($150,00 increase), computer science professional development ($150,000 increase), and funding for first time takers of the HiSET ($200,000 increase). 

The Senate proposal includes reducing five full-time positions at DESE in the Division of Learning Services along with $215,000 in salaries that go with these five positions. The Senate committee also eliminates the funding ($200,000) for the “My Scholars App” that is designed to help students in St. Louis Public Schools as well as a $150,000 reduction in the Scholar and Fine Arts Academies.

The appropriations bills will now be debated, and possibly amended, by the entire Senate.  All of the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be worked out in a conference committee made up of members of both the House and Senate. The bills will need approval of both chambers prior to the constitutional deadline for approval of the state budget of May 10.

Bill summaries

House

Elementary and Secondary Education

SB206 (Arthur) currently, any school district authorizing the construction of facilities that may cost more than $15,000 must advertise in a newspaper and comply with certain bidding requirements. This bill increases that amount to $50,000.

Executive Session

HCS/HB1016 (Shawan) currently, certain sexual offenders may be present within 500 feet of certain school property if they have permission from the school’s superintendent or the school board. The bill changes the law to require an offender to get permission from a local school board, or in the case of a private school, the school principal, after consultation with the local law enforcement agency. Voted do pass with substitute.

HCS/HB1023 (Mackey) defines restraint and seclusion and requires school districts to include a policy that prohibits the use of seclusion or restraint for any purpose other than to promote the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff members. Prior to July 1, 2020 each school district must also adopt a policy that includes reporting requirements and parental notification. The policy must also allow parents to review any reports regarding their child and the ability to file a complaint with the DESE regarding any use of seclusion or restraint.  The bill further requires DESE to develop recommendations for data collection and report on the use of seclusion or restraint in school districts or charter schools. Voted do pass with substitute.

HC/HB1212 (Stacy) would modify the section of law known as Bryce’s Law by changing responsibility of the program from DESE to the office of the State Treasurer. The bill would renew the program on July 1, 2020, due to the cost of the bill and would indefinitely extend the program that was set to expire in December. Voted do pass with substitute.

Senate

Education

HB604 (Henderson) establishes the school turnaround act. DESE shall use an outcome-based measure to set criteria for the designation of schools in need of intervention and specifies a time line for the initial remedial year.  Before Aug. 30, 2020, the department must identify two or more approved independent school turnaround experts of which schools in need of intervention may partner. The bill outlines that the department shall award contracts to independent school turnaround experts and that governing boards of schools not be required to pay independent school turnaround experts. The bill also establishes the “School Turnaround Fund” for the payment of contracts.  The bill specifies that the department must review school turnaround plans within 30 days of submission. Criteria for approval is specified in the bill as well as an appeal process. The bill also establishes the “School Intervention Fund,” to fund interventions identified in approved school turnaround plans. The bill specifies that a school in need of intervention that does not meet the exit criteria within three school years may petition the department for an extension to continue school improvement efforts for up to two years. The bill requires that DESE must report on the implementation of the program before Nov. 30, 2021, to Joint Committee on Education.

HB267 (Baker) allows a school district to offer an elective social studies unit on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, or the New Testament of the Bible. The course will include the contents, history, literary style and structure, and influences on society. No requirement shall be made by the district on the text translation students must use. By July 1, 2018, DESE must convene a work group to develop academic performance standards for this course and before Jan. 1, 2020 have developed written curriculum frameworks for school districts to implement.

Executive Session

SCS/SB445 (Arthur) under this act, school districts and charter schools shall receive state school funding under the foundation formula for high school students who are taking competency-based courses offered by their school district or charter school. Attendance of a student enrolled in a competency-based course shall equal the product of the district or charter school’s prior year average attendance percentage multiplied by the total number of attendance hours normally allocable to a non-competency-based course of equal credit value. Voted do pass with committee substitute.

SB461 (O’Laughlin) under current law, petitions to change the boundaries between school districts are required to be signed by 10% of the voters who voted for school board members in the last annual school election in each district that would be affected by the change. The bill would raise the petition signature requirement to 30% of the voters who voted for school board members in the last annual school election. Voted do pass.

SCS/HB169 (Gannon) establishes a statewide program, the Internet and Social Media Awareness Program, to increase awareness of appropriate online behavior and skills among students in public schools. DESE is required to consult with the Career and Technical Advisory Council in order to develop materials to be used by public schools for the instruction of online behavior. The council shall evaluate the effectiveness of the materials each school year and shall provide such evaluation to the department. Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, each school district and charter school must maintain a policy on Internet and social media awareness to protect the health and well-being of all students, and to ensure that all students have age-appropriate instruction on how to navigate online courses and engage in appropriate online behavior. Such policy shall be coordinated with other policies supporting the safety and emotional health of students. The Internet and social media awareness policy must ensure that all students in the fourth grade receive instruction on how to navigate online courses and engage in appropriate online behavior. Such policy shall specify other age-appropriate educational experiences at both the elementary and secondary levels to ensure that all students receive necessary instruction on internet use and social media awareness. Voted do pass with committee substitute.

Government Reform

HB485 (Dogan) defines accreditation standards and requires that the State Board of Education will adopt modified accreditation standards for special school districts (SSD) to reflect the educational needs of SSD students.

HB763 (Remole) defines private schools as any non-public school or school operated by a religious organization and specifies that private schools shall not be required to increase their minimum wage to $8.60 or the applicable federal rate on Jan. 1, 2019 or increase it annually as required by current law.

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