Several bills dealing with the Public School Retirement System (PSRS) advanced this week in the Missouri General Assembly. The House Pensions Committee conducted a hearing on HB723 (Pike) that allows a retired member of the Public School or Public Education Employees Retirement System who has elected a reduced retirement allowance to provide for survivor benefits for his or her spouse to have the retirement allowance increased to the single life annuity amount, with no survivor benefits, if the member and his or her spouse became divorced prior to Sept. 1, 2017. MSTA testified in favor of the bill during the hearing. There was no opposition expressed due to the fact that there is not a negative cost effect to PSRS.
The House gave first round approval to HB77 (R. Black) that would allow all PSRS retirees who return to work for community colleges to be covered under the 550 hours and 50 percent of salary statutory restrictions. The Senate version of the same bill is SB17 (Romine). It has been approved by the Senate and is awaiting action in the House Pensions Committee.
The other pension bill that teachers are concerned with is HB864 (Taylor) that would allow PSRS members the option of staying in the defined benefit plan or taking the option of participating in a defined contribution plan. Members cannot simultaneously participate in both plans. If a member chooses the defined contribution plan they cannot go back to the defined benefit plan.
MSTA is opposed to this legislation. This opposition is based upon the MSTA Resolution that states, “MSTA supports PSRS being a defined-benefit retirement plan.”
The PSRS Board of Trustees recently voted to go on record in opposition to this bill.
A recent study conducted by the National Institute on Retirement Security that looked at teacher pensions vs 401(k) plans concluded, among other things, that 84 percent of Missouri teachers are better off in a defined benefit plan than a 401(k) plan and that contribution costs for Missouri teachers would double in order to realize the same retirement income in a 401(k) as a defined benefit plan. The full report can be seen at: nirsonline.org/reports/teacher-pensions-vs-401k/.
So far, the bill has not been assigned to committee. MSTA members who attend MSTA Capitol Visits will have the opportunity to discuss these bills face-to-face with their legislators. Should this issue advance during the session, members can keep up to date through MSTA Action.
Legislation that would expand the current charter school form of governance across the entire state of Missouri continues to advance. The House and Senate have both had hearings on their respective bills. The Senate General Laws Committee held a hearing on SB292 (Eigel) and HB581 (Roeber) was voted out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee as well as the Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee. HB581 was amended in committee to more closely match provisions relating to expansion in SB292. HB581 could soon be placed on the House calendar for debate by the full House.
MSTA continues to advocate on behalf of members, students, and communities. Local control of public education is vital to free public education. We believe that all students deserve equal access to a free public education. These bills fail to give all Missourians a voice in how public funds are spent in their communities. While the proponents state the bill adds a greater amount of accountability, that accountably only exists toward charter school sponsors. The boards and for-profit companies that manage and run charter schools will be allowed to continue to operate regardless of outcomes and outside of the scrutiny of taxpayers. MSTA supports charter schools that are granted by the local school board within an existing accredited Missouri public school district. This local control of public education gives all stakeholders in the community a vital voice.
The House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education conducted a hearing on HB478 (Christofanelli), a House bill that would establish the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. This bill would operate similar to SB160 (Koenig). It would create a tax credit program that would function as a voucher to allow public funds to pay for private education, without any oversight or accountability.
SB160 (Koenig) was on the Senate Formal Calendar for debate, but was placed on the Senate Informal Calendar. The bill could come up for debate at any time the Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Caleb Rowden, decides the body should deliberate the bill. As these voucher bills continue to evolve, the problems of allowing a diversion of education funds and lack of accountability to Missouri taxpayers continue to remain. Missouri’s budget faces serious problems due to tax credit programs that are allowed to grow unchecked. This tax credit program is yet another budget buster that lacks basic controls in both cost and form. MSTA is opposed to legislation that would give tax credits for scholarships, tuition or vouchers to private schools or voucher plans that would divert public funds to pay for private school tuition.
The Senate Education Committee heard nearly two hours of testimony on a bill that would make changes to the statewide policy on reading.
SB73 (O’Laughlin) mandates each local school district and charter school to have on file a policy for reading intervention plans for any pupils of the district in grades kindergarten through four, rather than through grade three. Authority to develop guidelines to assist school districts and charter schools in formulating policies for reading intervention plans is transferred from the State Board of Education to local school districts. Each school district and charter school is required to administer a reading assessment or set of assessments to each student within the first 30 days of school for grades one through four, and by Jan. 31 for kindergarten.
School districts and charter schools will be required to offer a reading intervention program to each K-4 student who exhibits a reading deficiency or has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. The reading intervention program must be provided in addition to the core reading instruction provided to all students. Any K-4 student who exhibits a deficiency in reading at any time, based upon local or statewide screening assessments, is mandated to receive an individual reading intervention plan no later than 30 days after the identification of the deficiency. The plan must be created by the teacher and other pertinent school personnel, and describes the evidence-based reading improvement services the student will receive.
The bill mandates that structured literacy reading programs are provided to any student with a formal diagnosis of dyslexia or for a student who was found to be at risk for dyslexia in the statewide dyslexia screening.
Finally, the bill requires the board of each school district and charter school to post, by Sept. 1 of each year, by building and by district and by each demographic category, the number and percentage of all students in grades 3-8 scoring at each proficiency level on the English language arts statewide assessment.
MSTA opposed the bill because it reduces local control by setting forth state mandates for many of the programs required under the bill.
Special Committee on Student Accountability
HB631 (Rone) establishes the Alternative Disability Services Act, which allows a parent, guardian, or student ages 18-21 to initiate the negotiation of an agreement for an alternative provider of special education services. The public school must negotiate agreements for the educational costs of students with disabilities in good faith, and the agreements may include provisions for partial or full enrollment of the child in public school, and services and supplementary aids the public school will provide. An agreement may be initiated by a parent, guardian, or student ages 18-21 when the IEP or ISP goals are not being met, the IEP or ISP accommodations or modifications are not being provided, or special education services are not available from certified personnel through the public school. The education of children with disabilities shall, to the maximum extent appropriate, be with children who do not have disabilities, and shall attend regular class, except in the case of a disability resulting in violent behavior which causes substantial likelihood of injury to the students or others.
HB507 (Sommer) creates an Advisory Council on Safe and Strong Schools consisting of seven members appointed by the governor. The council will hold its first meeting no later than Feb. 1, 2020, and meet at least four times within the first year and then annually to determine if any recommendations should be made to the General Assembly to enhance school safety. The council is to focus on the following areas.
1. Safe school design and operation
2. Gun violence prevention
3. Mental health and wellness
4. School climate and discipline
5. Physical security and emergency preparedness
6. Substance abuse and gang intervention.
The council is to submit findings and recommendations in writing to the General Assembly by Dec. 31 of each year.
Special Committee on Career Readiness
HB592 (Trent) establishes procedures governing the use and access to student data by third parties. Any time a school provides access to student data to a contractor, the contractor must agree to a written contract with the school governing the contractor’s access and use of student data. A contractor must maintain security practices designed to protect student data. The school is required to notify students and parents whose data is affected by the contract. The bill also requires the operators of school websites that collect, maintain, or use student data to maintain security practices designed to protect student data. Operators are prohibited from keeping or using student data except for authorized purposes. The bill also requires notification of the school and affected students and parents if security breaches cause the unauthorized disclosure of student data. A task force is established to study issues relating to student data privacy. The task force must submit a report to the Joint Committee on Education before Jan. 31, 2020.
HCS/HB462 (Shields) provides for a tax credit of up to 50 percent of the cost incurred to any business that provides an opportunity for a teacher externship. This provision of the bill will sunset six years after its effective date. The Department of Economic Development and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shall adopt requirements for teacher externships along with an equivalency schedule to allow externship hours to be considered for increases similar to graduate-level coursework on the salary schedule. Voted do pass with committee substitute.
HCS/HB743 & 673 (Fishel) establishes the Cronkite New Voices Act, which provides that in both public high schools and public institutions of higher education, a student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media. The bill permits school districts and student-media advisers to regulate the number, length, frequency, and format of school-sponsored media. School districts must adopt a written freedom of the press policy that includes reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of student expression. The policy may also restrict speech that is offensive or threatening. The bill forbids school districts from prior restraint of school-sponsored media except in circumstances specified in the bill. Voted do pass with committee substitute.
Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources
SB218 (Hoskins) authorizes DESE to develop a pilot program to provide agricultural education in elementary schools in the state beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. The pilot will be used to determine whether and how to implement an elementary agricultural education program statewide.
DESE will select one public elementary school from each of the 16 geographic areas across the state, using the 16 Future Farmers of America Association areas. The local school board for each elementary school selected to be in the pilot program will agree to implement and fully fund an elementary agricultural education program in their school and to continue to provide elementary agricultural education program for at least three years. The department and local school districts will collaborate to establish the curriculum for each elementary agricultural education program.
DESE will provide a program evaluation regarding the success and impact of the pilot program and report the results of the evaluation to the House and Senate committees dealing with agriculture and education. DESE is also required to maintain an adequate number of full-time employees certified in agricultural education and they must be distributed regionally throughout the state.