This week at a glance
- The State Board of Education met in Jefferson City, and there were robust discussions regarding the renewal of several struggling charter schools. The State Board openly expressed frustrations over the lack of accountability for charter schools.
- Northwest Region recently visited for their scheduled Capitol visit. They were welcomed by Rep. Ruth and heard a briefing from MSTA Government Relations staff before visiting with their local elected officials.
- The Senate and House both debated legislation that would allow Missourians the choice to get a Real ID compliant driver’s license. The Senate debated changes to worker compensation law while the House passed a bill relating to unemployment benefits.
- The state will receive a $50 million tobacco settlement due to a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling. Gov. Greitens recently proposed that $11 million be used to restore proposed cuts for K-12 transportation funding in the FY18 budget.
A bill proposing the creation of education savings accounts (ESAs) for children with disabilities, children of active duty military members, and foster children was heard in the Senate Education Committee.
In the Senate committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Andrew Koenig proposed SB313. This bill is similar to SB32(Emery) that creates a system to distribute money to parents through education savings accounts. The money could be used for private or virtual school tuition, textbooks, online classes, transportation, tutoring or home school expenses.
A taxpayer may make a qualifying contribution to an educational assistance organization and claim a tax credit. The tax credit is for 100 hundred percent of the amount of the contribution. The annual cumulative amount of tax credits is limited at $50 million, which will be adjusted for inflation.
The parent of a qualified student must sign an agreement to enroll the qualified student in a qualified nonpublic or home school to receive an education for the student and not enroll the student in a school operated by a district or charter school.
The scholarship accounts are renewable on an annual basis upon request of the parent of a qualified student. Qualified students shall remain eligible for renewal until the student completes high school, then remaining funds may be used for higher education expenses.
MSTA lobbyists testified against the bill. Serious questions still exist about accountability for the students and schools that these students could enroll in. There should be accountability required if students are receiving scholarships that are funded by contributions that receive a tax credit. Public schools are held to high accountability standards, and schools that accept these scholarships should have some accountability measures to ensure that students are receiving a quality education.
The second reason MSTA testified against this bill is because it creates another tax credit program. Gov. Greitens recently appointed a special committee to investigate the detrimental effect tax credits have on the state budget. While these investigations continue, the creation of new tax credit programs such as SB313 continue to be proposed. Because current projections show a $600 million shortfall for the next fiscal year, this might not be the best time to add another tax credit program that would contribute to an already poor state budget situation.
HB304 and HB305 (Pike) were both voted out of the House Pensions Committee. Currently, a retired teacher receiving an allowance from the Missouri Public School Retirement System can work part time for a school district covered by the retirement system and not forfeit his or her retirement allowance. The retired person can work up to 550 hours and earn up to 50 percent of the annual salary received by the person while they were teaching prior to retirement. HB305 expands this provision to any individual who is employed by a third party or working as an independent contractor as a substitute teacher or other position normally requiring certification. Documentation may be required showing proof of compliance with this provision. Voted out “do pass.”
HB304 (Pike) allows retired members of the Public School or Public Education Employees Retirement Systems who have 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 become divorced on or after Sept. 1, 2017 only if the dissolution decree provides for sole retention by the retired person of all rights in the retirement allowance. Currently, a retired member has 90 days from the date of the remarriage to nominate a successor beneficiary. HB304 would change that deadline to one year. Any such increase in the retirement allowance will be effective upon the receipt of an application for the increase and a certified copy of the decree of dissolution that meets the requirements. Voted out “do pass.”
SB394 (Romine) is substantially similar to HB304. The bill was heard in the Senate Heath and Pensions Committee. MSTA testified in support.
Pledge to Pledge, MSTA’s new program connecting legislators to their local schools to lead the pledge of allegiance, is generating many requests. Legislators have been enthusiastic about the opportunity to engage with students on civic involvement in their schools and local communities. If you are interested in asking your legislator to visit, please go to pledge.msta.org
The state budget comprises 13 budget bills, representing over $27 million in total spending. The education budget (HB2) includes over 700 pages of spending and information on programs funded by both the state and federal government. Committee members discussed the proposed increase in the foundation formula as well as cuts to K-12 transportation. During the hearing, there were many questions regarding charter schools. Members of the budget committee were concerned about the lack of accountability and recent discussions at the State Board of Education meeting regarding the inability to intervene in failing charter schools.
Members also asked about the Missouri Charter School Commission, including its fiscal management as well as its operation and autonomy from the State Board of Education. The House Budget Committee will continue to work on the state budget before bringing recommendations to the entire House of Representatives.
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee discussed HB695 (Pfautsch) that would change the way students earn credits for physical education. Any student who participates in at least two approved high school sports in one school year would receive one unit of physical education credit for the high school graduation requirement.
An approved sport is any classified by a statewide athletic organization with a public school district as a member. Missouri State High School Activities Association is currently the only such organization.
Discussion on the bill centered on the difficulty some students have meeting graduation requirements while electing to take four years of elective courses or wanting to take more advance placement/dual credit courses vs. the importance of having a well-rounded physical education experience.
HB251 (Taylor) was recently heard in the Senate General Laws Committee, amended and voted out the same day. This bill began as a restriction to payroll deductions, but now encompasses several reforms regarding “public labor organizations” including changes to collective bargaining.
HB251 as voted out of the House required annual written or electronic authorization of any withholdings from public employees to pay dues. In addition to the yearly signoff, groups would be required to comply with federal law pertaining to record keeping for private labor unions. These extensive reports would be required to be available in a searchable electronic format for five years. Failure to maintain or update the records could result in litigation.
MSTA is not a union, but this change in state law would define both MSTA and local CTAs as “public labor organizations” and would require extensive unnecessary reporting and the creation of an online database for each CTA.
In committee, SB210 (Onder) was combined with HB251 with minor changes. The language adds more reporting requirements, and adds a new framework for collective bargaining. The bill changes certification of labor organizations, decertification of labor organizations, collective bargaining requirements as well as labor agreement requirements. While the underlying bill has been through both chambers in the past, many of the provisions in this bill have not previously been debated by the general assembly.
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee held a hearing on HB67 (Ruth) that would place a teacher on the State Board of Education as an ex-officio member.
MSTA President Brett Hoch testified in favor and spoke on the importance of having a teacher’s voice at the table when decisions about standards, assessments and accreditation are made. Hoch told the committee that “this bill would ensure that a teacher is heard when issues come before the State Board of Education, and can offer a professional perspective that State Board members or DESE staff cannot deliver.”
The bill would require the governor to appoint, with Senate approval, a teacher representative to the SBOE. This teacher representative would be an ex-officio member but would be allowed to attend all SBOE meetings and participate in deliberations. However, the teacher representative will not have the right to vote on any matter or be counted in establishing a quorum.
The teacher must be a Missouri resident, certified to teach, have at least five years of teaching experience, employed full time as a teacher in the state and not on leave. The teacher must have the written support from their local school board before being appointed. The teacher’s term will be four years and subsequent appointments will be made in rotation from each congressional district, beginning with the First District.
The bill also includes an eight-year sunset on the teacher member of the board, and not allow any other non-voting members to be placed on the State Board.
There was not any opposition to the bill. DESE did provide testimony “for information purposes,” but in doing so spoke against the bill. The DESE representative brought up concerns with the bill not being constitutional because the constitution calls for board members to be “lay members.” Since this bill would place someone on the board as an ex-officio member, the constitutional concerns are without merit. DESE provided information about a teacher advisory committee that has been established. This committee is made up of former teachers of the year, and does not have direct communications with the SBOE.
Currently, the board is made up of eight citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Members serve staggered, eight-year terms so that one term expires each year. No more than four members of the board may belong to the same political party. No more than one member of the board may reside in the same county or Congressional district. When terms expire, members continue to serve until being replaced or reappointed.
The House Elementary and Secondary Education committee also heard HB675 (Dohrman) and HJR29 (Dohrman) that would shorten the terms for SBOE members from eight to four years. If it passes, HJR29 would be a change to the constitution and would have to be approved by voters.
HB675 also includes a provision that allows any state board member to be subject to a recall vote if a petition signed by at least 8 percent of the legal voters in each of two-thirds of the Congressional districts is submitted and verified by the Secretary of State. If the petition is verified, a statewide election on recall must be held within 60 days after verification.
A priority bill for Gov. Greitens, as well as Republican leadership in the legislature relating to education reform has passed the Missouri House.
HB138 (Spencer), which was approved by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee recently was brought up for debate and passed by the House. This bill changes the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MOVIP) to The Missouri Course Access Program (MCAP). The bill would allow any K-12 student to enroll in MCAP courses to be paid by the school district or charter school. The student must have been enrolled in a school district or charter school and attended the school for at least one semester immediately prior to enrolling in the program. The student would only be eligible for an online course if a substantial equivalent is not available in the school district or charter school or if a scheduling conflict exists. A student that is enrolled in the MCAP and does not meet the requirements for the costs to be paid by the district or charter school must pay the costs for any course directly to the MCAP. The bill requires the State Board of Education to provide an easily accessible link for course vendors on the MCAP website. DESE would allow anyone to submit courses for approval, and requires vendors to accept monthly payments for students enrolled in these courses. This bill requires the students’ home district to pay the costs associated with MCAP courses up to the equivalent of a full-time student, under certain conditions.