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Voucher bill voted out of committee and placed on Senate calendar

The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted out a revised version of SB160 (Koenig) by a vote of 5-1. The voucher bill has been placed on the Senate calendar and could come up for debate before the full Senate very soon. The Ways and Means Committee adopted a Senate committee substitute that made many changes to the program but fails to address the concerns raised by MSTA lobbyists and other supporters of public education. Similar to previous versions of this legislation, the bill creates a voucher program with little oversight, and a lack of accountability for the success of students using these vouchers.

The Senate Committee Substitute for SB160 would reduce the cost of the program from $50 million to $25 million, while still allowing the program to expand without any accountability or sunset provision. Other changes to the bill include changing the oversight of education assistance organizations from the Missouri Department of Revenue to the Missouri State Treasurer.  The scarce accountability measurers in the original version have been shifted from the institutions that students would attend to the nonprofit, non-governmental education assistance organizations that administer the program.

While the program has been phased down regarding initial cost, MSTA’s greatest concerns are still not addressed, including the lack of real accountability for the schools that students could enroll in while receiving state tax incentives.  Missouri’s current strong economy has highlighted the structural issues that exist in the state budget that are partly caused by current tax credit subsidies. Missouri communities, parents, students and taxpayers would be further harmed by yet another unchecked runaway tax credit program.

House Committee hears charter school expansion bill

The charter expansion bill that could open charter schools in any district in the state without input or oversight of local communities HB581 (Roeber) was heard in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. This bill is substantially similar to charter school expansion bills from previous sessions.  The legislation would allow charter schools to open in any school district in the state without addressing problems and concerns that exist in the current charter governance model.

In the last 19 years since the charter school model has been in existence in Missouri, over one-third of charter schools have closed their doors. While the reasons for the closures have varied, including poor academic performance and/or financial mismanagement, students struggle with increased mobility and taxpayer money is wasted. Over $620 million was spent on failed charter schools in Missouri.  Money that was spent without oversight or accountability from local communities.

The Missouri General Assembly has a clear charge from the Missouri Constitution regarding establishing and maintaining free public schools for the instruction of all persons in the state.  While traditional public schools enroll all students, public charter schools have enrolled much smaller numbers of special needs students.  According to data reported to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the statewide average enrollment of special needs students for traditional schools is 13.3 percent, yet high performing charter schools like University Academy and Ewing Marion Kauffman fall far below that average, at 4.3 percent and 7.1 percent of their student populations.  Another concerning aspect of some successful charter schools regarding their enrollment practices is the lack of backfilling their student populations.  Many charter schools utilize a lottery to fill classes, but data shows that often as cohorts advance grade levels, students who leave charter schools are not replaced by new students.  In 2005-2006 school year, University Academy enrolled 120 kindergartners. When that cohort of kindergartners reached the 12th grade in the 2017-18 school year, only 32 students remained from that cohort. A substantial portion of that class had left a 100 percent APR school and had not been replaced by new students. These cases illustrate where changes should take place in the current Missouri charter model, and expansion of charter schools should only be considered once these issues are addressed.

This bill would remove local control of public education in areas where charters expand and silence communities regarding how taxpayer monies are spent.  MSTA continues to ask the legislature to oppose any charter school expansion that fails to allow local school boards to have oversight of public education in communities.  Once established by a local school board, members of a public charter school board should be required to be residents of the district in which the charter school serves. 

Senate Education presentation on Missouri success in education

Superintendents from across the state testified before the Senate Education Committee to discuss the challenges and successes in their districts.  Sen. Gary Romine stressed that innovation is occurring in Missouri public schools.  Often the perceptions of public education in Missouri schools is not reality and teachers continue to do more with less to help students become college and career ready.  Schools are innovating across the state, not just in urban and suburban areas, but also in more rural parts of the state.  Communities and schools continue to build partnerships that benefit both education and industry.

Programs that are being utilized in these districts included the DESE Career Pathways Program.  The Pathways for Teachers program connects classroom knowledge to real world business and industry applications.  According to DESE, since the 2013-14 school year, over 400 middle and high school teachers, counselors, and administrators have participated in job shadowing and externships hosted by business and industry partners.  These education professionals are able to gain greater insight into the needs for students entering the workforce in a specific career pathway.

The following education officials testified before the committee:

Dr. William Nicely – Superintendent of Schools for the Kearney School District

Susan Crooks – Superintendent of Schools for the Leeton School District

Dr. Lori VanLeer – Superintendent of Schools for the School District of Washington

Dr. David Baker – Assistant Superintendent for Special School District

Hearing held on bill to expand teacher externships

Last session HB1415 (Lauer) created local business externships for teachers.  With the approval and supervision of their local school district, a teacher may be employed with a business in their community working on issues relating to subjects taught by the teacher.  Any hours spent in a local business externship are also allowed to count as professional development hours. HB462 (Shields) attempts to further these externships by creating an incentive for both businesses and teachers. The bill would create a tax credit of up to 50 percent of the cost incurred to any business that provides an opportunity for a teacher externship. The bill also directs DESE and the Department of Economic Development to convene a work group to develop requirements for teacher externships.  The bill would also allow teachers to use externship experience to be considered for increases similar to graduate-level coursework on a district salary schedule.

Senate passes bill to fix retirement legislation

SB17 (Romine) was passed out of the Senate on the consent calendar.  This bill would allow all PSRS retirees who would return to work for community colleges to be covered under the 550 hours and 50 percent of salary statutory restrictions.

Under current law, any person retired from PSRS may be employed by an employer included in the retirement system in a position that does not normally require a Missouri teacher certification. Such a person may earn up to 60 percent of the statutory minimum teacher salary ($15,000) without a discontinuance of the person’s retirement allowance.

If any person is employed in excess of the limitations, they will not be eligible to receive their retirement allowance for any month during which they are employed. MSTA supports SB17.  The bill will now advance to the House of Representatives.

Bill Summaries

House Pensions

Executive Session

HB77 (R. Black) would allow all PSRS retirees who would return to work for community colleges to be covered under the 550 hours and 50 percent of salary statutory restrictions.  Voted Do Pass

House Agriculture Policy Committee

Executive Session

HCS/HB161 & 401 (Knight) and HB401 (Basye) modifies the law governing school start dates by removing the option that school districts may set an opening date more than 10 calendar days prior to the first Monday in September beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Voted Do Pass

House General Laws

HB673 (Christofanelli) and HB743 (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.

House Special Committee on Student Accountability

HB169 (Gannon) establishes the Internet and Social Media Awareness Program to increase awareness of appropriate online behavior and skills among students in public schools. In coordination with the Career and Technical Education Advisory Council, materials would be developed and evaluated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Beginning in school year 2020-2021, each public school will provide instruction in fourth grade, a required course in eighth grade, and an elective course in high school on how to navigate online courses and appropriate online behavior.

HB456 (Neely) creates a STEM diploma endorsement for high school students. The bill defines a “granting local education provider” as a school district or charter school that chooses to grant a STEM diploma endorsement to a student who demonstrates mastery in the STEM disciplines. The criteria for the endorsement is specified in the bill and includes a final capstone project. The final capstone is a culminating exhibition of the student’s project or experience with outlined competencies. Competencies are developed with help from STEM-related business and industry leaders and institutions of higher education. Annually, each granting local education provider would provide the endorsement requirements to each student and parent or guardian.