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Governor outlines budget

On Tuesday, Gov. Eric Greitens recommended a $28.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Greitens’ budget plan would provide more than $3.4 billion in basic aid for public K-12 schools. That’s a $50 million increase to the foundation formula, but it would still fall about $48 million short of what’s considered full funding under state law. The 2019 fiscal year is the first year that certain pre-K students would qualify for funding under the foundation formula.  The cost to add these students into the foundation formula is $48 million.  But, according to Interim Commissioner of Education Roger Dorson, there would have to be a change in state law for the state to not provide funding for pre-K students.

The governor’s budget includes $92 million for transportation funding.  Public schools originally were budgeted to receive $105 million in state transportation aid in the 2018 fiscal year. Greitens cut that to $90 million when he signed the budget last summer.

In April 2017, Greitens proposed a plan to equip every school in Missouri with access to broadband internet with the aid of $6 million in state funding and $39 million in federal funding.  Greitens said that this effort will continue this year by proposing another $6 million.

In outlining his budget priorities, Greitens did mention teacher salaries, and included pay increases for teachers in state-run schools, but did not direct any state dollars specifically to teacher salaries.  “Teachers in Missouri are not getting the pay they deserve,” Greitens said. “That’s why the 2019 budget increases pay for teachers in state-run schools, and we’re sending more money than ever to our elementary, middle and high schools, and we want to see that our school districts follow our lead and increase teacher pay.”

The governor’s budget plan also included a first-of-a-kind proposal in Missouri to take out a short-term line of credit of up to $250 million. The borrowed money would be used to help with cash flow in order to help the state pay income tax refunds more quickly. In recent years, the state has increasingly fallen behind on refunds, resulting in interest payments to some taxpayers.

This is just the starting point for the state budget.  Both the House and Senate will now begin their work on crafting their versions for the state budget.

Workforce Development Committee hears computer science bills

The House Committee on Workforce Development heard two bills this week that are designed to promote computer science courses in schools.

HB1623 (Fitzwater) would allow a student to fulfill one unit of academic credit with a district-approved computer science course for any math, science, or practical arts unit required for high school graduation.

The bill also requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to convene a work group to develop and recommend academic performance standards relating to computer science. These standards shall be adopted and implemented beginning in the 2020-21 school year. In addition, the SBOE shall develop a procedure by which any licensed teacher who demonstrates sufficient content knowledge of computer science shall receive a special endorsement on his or her license signifying this specialized knowledge.

The bill creates the “Computer Science Education Fund” for the purpose of providing teacher professional development programs relating to computer science. The SBOE shall award grants from the fund to eligible entities who have submitted an application to DESE addressing items specified in the bill. The fund could receive appropriations through the state budget, or from private sources such as business.

The bill also creates the “STEM Career Awareness Program” to increase STEM career awareness among students in grades six through eight. The program shall introduce students to a wide variety of STEM careers and technology through an online-based STEM curriculum. By January 1, 2019, DESE shall solicit proposals and select a provider for the online program using specified criteria or choose a third-party nonprofit entity to implement the statewide program, solicit proposals, and select a provider.

MSTA testified in support of HB1623.  Concern was raised at the hearing about replacing computer science courses for a math course, and how that might affect admissions requirements for colleges.  It is expected that this potential problem will be worked out before the bill moves forward.

The committee also heard HB1457 (Lauer), which requires each school district, after the 2018-19 school year, to offer a course on computer programming to all high school students. The bill provides specified options for the school district to develop or use an established curriculum for the course. Students taking the course may have the course count as an elective or practical arts credit.

Field service coordinators discuss educator evaluations with assistant commissioner

In an effort to help members understand the changes in teacher evaluations, MSTA Field Service Coordinators met Jan. 18 with Paul Katnik, DESE Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Educator Quality. Members submitted more than 240 concerns and questions prior to the meeting.

Katnik provided insight into the development and application of Missouri’s Evaluation System. The new evaluation shifts school districts from an evaluation system simply for administrative compliance to one created to enhance educator performance and promote higher levels of student learning. Katnik explained the essential principles that are the framework of Missouri’s model. He said it is just as important for educators to know what is NOT required by DESE as it is to know what is required.  Additionally, he emphasized the need for educators to be active participants in their evaluation process to ensure professional growth and student success.

If you have questions or concerns about your evaluation, contact your Field Service Coordinator.  They will be happy to work with you to ensure the process is supported by research and proven practices.

Voucher bill to be debated by Senate

SB612 (Koenig) was voted out of the Senate Government Reform Committee and placed on the Senate formal calendar for possible debate in the near future.  This legislation would establish a new program to create education savings accounts that would be funded by the issuance of tax credits for students to attend private school, home school, or private or public virtual school. The bill was changed in committee to decrease the cost of the voucher program from $50 million to $25 million, and changes were made to narrow the eligibility of the program to students with disabilities, wards of the state, or children with a parent in active military service.  While the program has been phased down regarding initial cost and eligibility, 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.  With a clearer picture of the current state budget, and more cuts across current government programs, creating another unchecked runaway tax credit program should be an alarming scenario for legislative leaders responsible for maintaining a fiscally sound state moving forward.

Charter school expansion bills moving

HB2247 (Roeber) was filed last week and quickly referred to the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.  It is possible that charter school expansion legislation could be rushed through the legislative process with hearings and committee passage in the same week, taking away important oversight and input from Missouri’s education professionals.

This bill is substantially similar to the charter school expansion bill that passed out of the house by one vote last session.  Language for the bill only became publicly available late this week, but analysis of the language suggests it is similar to the charter expansion bill that the house approved last session.

Charter schools could expand into any provisionally accredited district in the state, or any district where at least one school building receives a score of 60 percent or less on an annual performance report for two of the three most recent reports available.  The charter school can only offer the grade levels consistent with the grade levels of the underperforming school.  Members of charter boards must be income tax payers in the state of Missouri, but are not required to be residents of the district in which the charter school operates.

While the bill dictates that any new charter schools must give preference for admission to resident pupils who reside in the attendance area of the underperforming school, the bill allows for open enrollment of any nonresident pupil who is a resident of the state of Missouri, unless the pupil’s enrollment will cause a resident pupil to be denied enrollment.  

Many of the problems with HB2247 also existed in last year’s bill.  Decisions regarding public education are taken out of the hands of voters and locally elected school boards and are transferred to members of unelected charter school boards.  The management of millions of Missouri tax dollars would be under the control of private citizens not accountable to their local communities.

The bill includes vague language requiring charter schools to meet all state and federal requirements and the same academic performance standards required of public school districts, but fails to outline the application, oversight, or specific accountability to this provision.

Traditional public schools educate all students in the community regardless of their hardships, an obligation clearly stated in the Missouri Constitution Article IX, Section 1(a) “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state within ages not in excess of twenty-one years as prescribed by law.” Charter schools are permitted to limit class sizes and not accept all students.  If students leave charter schools, those open seats are not always replaced by new students.  This reverse admission policy allows charters to avoid many of the issues that come with high student mobility.

MSTA resolutions are clear on this matter.  “The Missouri State Teachers Association believes all students deserve equal access to a free public education.  All students are of equal and great individual worth.  We believe that the continuation of our free nation and its strength and well-being depend on our free public schools.  These schools contribute significantly to the national unity, common purpose, equality of opportunity and the perpetuation of democracy, and should be nurtured by all our citizens.”  Expanding a charter school model with inconsistent academic results, is not in the best interest of advancing a strong free public education for all Missourians. Other bills in the house addressing charter schools have been filed including HB2246 (Swan) and HB2200 (Rhoads).

Bill Summaries

House Elementary and Secondary Education

Bills heard and voted out of committee this week

HB1420 (Pfautsch) Extends the sunset on the early learning quality assurance report program.  MSTA testified in support. Voted “do pass.”

HB1663 (Swan) Allows school districts to establish comprehensive school counseling programs for students attending school in the district.  Voted “do pass.”

HCR57 (Burnett) Designates February 5-9, 2018, as Missouri School Counseling Week. Voted “do pass.”

Visit Bunker Hill in 2019