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Senate committee hears school voucher bill

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard a bill to give school vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools. The bill pays for the scholarships by offering tax credits to people or corporations that make contributions to the scholarship fund. MSTA testified in opposition to the bill. 

State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick testified in support of the legislation, as his office would administer the program.  SB581 (Cierpiot) would allow any taxpayer who makes a qualifying contribution to the Show Me a Brighter Future Scholarship to claim a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the total contribution. The amount of the tax credit claimed by an individual taxpayer or a married couple filing jointly shall not exceed 50 percent of the taxpayer’s state tax liability for the year in which the credit is claimed, nor shall a corporate taxpayer claim a tax credit in excess of 50 percent of such taxpayer’s state tax liability for the year.

The cumulative amount of tax credits that may be allocated to all taxpayers contributing to the scholarship fund in the first year of the program shall not exceed $25 million. If the amount of the tax credits claimed in the first tax year exceeds 90 percent of the tax credits available, the amount of tax credits available shall increase by 10 percent in the subsequent year.

The bill does not include any accountability measures and designates the State Treasurer to adopt rules and procedures necessary to implement the scholarship program, including rules setting forth the order of preference for scholarship awards, reporting requirements, responsibilities of a parent of an eligible student, and responsibilities of an eligible student’s district of residence.

An eligible student is any student who is a member of a household whose total annual income does not exceed an amount equal to two times the income standard used to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, who has attended a public school in the preceding semester or is starting school in the state for the first time, or who is a sibling of a student already enrolled in the program.

The amount of scholarship grants awarded to eligible students shall be equal to the state adequacy target, and the amount of scholarship grants awarded to a special education eligible student shall be in an amount equal to the state adequacy target multiplied by 1.75.

Scholarship funds in a qualified tuition savings account shall only be used for payment of tuition at a qualifying school.

The State Treasurer may bar a parent from future participation in the program if the State Treasurer establishes that the parent has intentionally spent scholarship grant funds for a purpose other than that allowed under the act or by rule.

Senate Education Committee hears bill to boost transportation funding

The Senate Education Committee started working for the 2020 legislative session by hearing a bill that could boost funding for school transportation.

SB 528 (Cunningham) would require that in any fiscal year in which the total foundation formula appropriation is greater than the amount reimbursed to schools, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must transfer the excess funding to the School Transportation Fund established in this act.

The bill establishes the “School Transportation Fund” in the State Treasury. The fund will be administered by the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and any funds deposited into the fund shall be paid to school districts to provide transportation to students, in addition to state aid currently provided for transportation of students based on the number of students transported by the district.

Each budgeting cycle, the state uses a complex formula to calculate how much money it will pay school districts to educate students through the foundation formula. Those estimates can be affected by factors like student attendance, meaning there is sometimes money left over at the end of the year.

While the state has fully funded the foundation formula over the past couple of years, it has consistently fallen short of meeting a requirement that it pay for 75 percent of local district transportation costs.

The bill will need approval by the committee before it can be debated by the entire Senate.

Governor’s PSRS appointee has Senate hearing

In November, Gov. Mike Parson appointed Sharon Kissinger, of Poplar Bluff, to the Public School Retirement System Board of Trustees. Kissinger is a co-owner and financial consultant at Kissinger & Kirkman Investment Centre, LLC in Poplar Bluff.  She previously worked as an investment representative for Edward Jones. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Lincoln University in Jefferson City. MSTA lobbyists have spoken with her and are looking forward to working with her as a member of the Board of Trustees. She replaces Chuck Bryant, whose term on the board expired. The governor is responsible for appointing three members of the seven-member board. One of the governor’s appointees must be a retired member of either PSRS or PEERS.

Her appointment will still need to be approved by the full Senate.  She will serve a term that expires on June 30, 2021.

This spring an election will be held for two of the four elected Board of Trustee positions. MSTA, the Missouri Association of School Administrators and MNEA are supporting two candidates in the election. Dr. Melinda Moss, superintendent of schools at Joplin, and Darren Farmer, teacher at Polo R-VII.

Bill on tax deduction for teachers heard in Senate Committee

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard SB583 (Arthur), which would allow kindergarten through 12th grade teachers to deduct up to $500 of the out-of-pocket costs of educator expenses on their Missouri state income taxes.  Educator expenses include out-of-pocket costs for professional development courses related to instruction, and expenses such as books, supplies, computer equipment, and other materials that may be used in the classroom.  Currently, teachers may elect to take a deduction on their federal income taxes of up to $250, but no deduction is eligible on Missouri income taxes. MSTA testified in support.

Snow day requirements

New rules for making up snow days went into effect this year. Learn more.

Bill Summaries

House Education

HB1317 (Sommer) mandates school districts to establish a state-approved gifted program if 3 percent or more of the students are determined to be gifted. Districts with average daily attendance of more than 350 students are required to have a teacher certificated to teach gifted education. Any teacher providing gifted instruction without a gifted-teaching certificate must participate in six hours of professional development regarding gifted services each year.

HB1568 (Bailey) defines “Restraint” and “Seclusion” and requires the school district to adopt 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. The legislation also mandates that a report be generated by the school each time seclusion or restraint is used, with a copy of the report given to DESE. The school must also notify the parent or guardian of the student within 24 hours and notify the parents of their right to request a meeting to review the incident with staff and administrators. DESE must also develop recommendations for data collection and reporting regarding the use of seclusion or restraint in Missouri school districts and charter schools to present to the State Board of Education.

HB1636 (Porter) would allow schools with a four-day school week to set a school start date that is more than 14 calendar days before the first Monday in September. School boards would be required to give notice of a public meeting to discuss the early start date before adopting the calendar. MSTA testified in support. 

Executive Session

HB1540 (Basye) would prevent school districts from prohibiting parents or guardians of students to electronically record any IEP or 504 plan meeting. The recording made by the parents or guardian would be the property of the parent and would not be a public record.  There is a “whistleblower” provision that outlines that any school district employee that acts in good faith and reports alleged retaliation, discrimination, or violations of IDEA or Section 504 on the part of a school employee may not be fired or otherwise discriminated against in any fashion because of a recording. Voted do pass with substitute.

HB1559 (Remole) specifies that any non-public school, or school operated by a religious organization is not required to increase their minimum wage annually as currently required by law.  Voted do pass.