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Harmful education legislation advancing in Missouri Senate

Several school choice measures had committee hearings this week, two of the bills were voted out of committee and could soon be placed on the Senate calendar for debate.

SB581 (Cierpiot), a proposed voucher program called the “Show Me a Brighter Future Scholarship Act” was voted out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  The bill would 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.  The bill was slightly altered in the committee to add provisions regarding the order of preference for the voucher and requiring basic health and safety compliance for schools in the program.

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 remains at $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 each subsequent year, allowing the program to spiral out of control without any legislative budget oversight.  The bill requires students in the program to complete tests similar to public schools, but there is no course of action for the state to take regarding the results of the tests.  The bill also fails to guarantee that students will receive a quality education in the requirements placed on private schools in the program regarding staffing.  Research clearly shows that a quality teacher is the most important factor contributing to student achievement.  The bill grossly fails to ensure quality education by only requiring 80 percent of the teachers in the voucher accepting school to hold a basic bachelor’s degree.

This voucher scheme is yet another runaway budget buster that lacks clear oversight and accountability that Missouri citizens demand in public education.

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.

In an unusual move, Chairman of the General Laws Committee, Senator Bill Eigel held a hearing on his SB649 and voted the bill do pass out of committee just minutes after the hearing concluded.  

SB649 is very similar to charter expansion bills from past sessions, allowing the charter school model to expand to any school district located in a county with a charter form of government (Jackson, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and Jefferson) and any city with a population greater than 30,000 with only one school district without oversight by the locally elected school board.

SB603 (O’Laughlin) was heard in the Senate Government Reform Committee.  This charter expansion bill would allow charter schools to operate in very similar populations to SB649, but would require a charter school application to first be reviewed by the locally elected school board. If rejected by the local school board, the decision would then be appealed to the unelected bureaucratic Missouri Charter Public School Commission, a commission funded from the sponsoring of charter schools that would make the final determination of granting a charter based on “evidence of community support.”

MSTA opposes these measures which expand public schools that are not accountable to local taxpayers at a time the state is failing to address teacher recruitment and retention issues, teacher pay, and school safety issues.

These proposed expansions of charter schools would mark some of the largest growth of government in recent state history, lack additional resources to provide appropriate services, and remove local control for Missouri’s taxpayers. The State Board of Education has been working to help school districts identify efficiencies and work on teacher recruitment and retention issues.  Expanding the charter school model without local control or additional resources creates a larger government system, one that is already strained to provide the services students need and the competitive salaries for Missouri to recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers.

Also heard in the Senate Government Reform Committee was SB525 (Emery). This bill would create “Recovery Charter High Schools” in Kansas City.  These schools would serve students who are in recovery from substance use disorders, substance dependency, or co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression and ADHD.  These charter schools would also be able to enroll students from across the state and would require the students’ resident districts to pay 100 percent of its average per-pupil expenditures to the recovery charter school.

Local control of public education is vital to free public education.  MSTA members 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.  Similar to legislation filed in the past, SB649 and SB603 allow the unelected boards and for-profit companies that manage and run charter schools 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.

PSRS appointment approved by Senate

The Senate has given final approval for Sharon Kissinger, of Poplar Bluff, to the Public School Retirement System Board of Trustees.

Last week the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee held a hearing at which time they approved Kissinger’s appointment.  The final step in the appointment process took place this week and the full Senate approved her appointment.

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.

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.

Romine appointed to State Tax Commission

The Senate will have a new chair of the Education Committee as Sen. Gary Romine is leaving the Senate to take a position on the State Tax Commission.

Romine has served in the Senate since 2012.  This would have been his final year due to term limits.  Romine has chaired the Senate Committee on Education and served as the vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Education. During his time in the Senate he was a strong advocate for public schools and the role that education can have in improving workforce development.

Romine is a former high school teacher and the former president and CEO of Show-Me-Rent-To-Own.

New State Board member appointed

Gov. Mike Parson has appointed Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge to the State Board of Education. Mrs. Westbrooks-Hodge joins the State Board of Education after serving as a member of the Joint Executive Governing Board at Normandy Schools Collaborative since December 2015.

“Pamela’s time on the board in Normandy has given her a front row seat to the great work happening in our public schools, the challenges they’re currently facing and how the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) supports their efforts,” said Commissioner Margie Vandeven. “That experience makes Pamela such a valuable addition to our State Board of Education. We are so looking forward to the insight she will bring to our discussions.”

Westbrooks-Hodge is a graduate of Normandy High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Northwest Missouri State University, then her master’s degree in business administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Westbrooks-Hodge works for Edward Jones, leading Information Systems Audit Division. She holds certifications in financial, operational and information systems auditing and has considerable expertise in strategy formulation and execution and talent development. She previously worked for Express Scripts, Anheuser-Busch and Bank of America in senior governance, risk and compliance roles.

Westbrooks-Hodge replaced Mike Jones who has served on the State Board of Education for nine years. Jones’ term expired in July 2018. He has since been serving at the pleasure of the governor until a replacement was named.

She will begin her service after her appointment is confirmed by the Missouri Senate.

HB1413 declared void

HB1413 declared void

The Missouri legislature passed sweeping changes to MO public sector bargaining in 2018. The law, HB1413, required CTA leaders to file annual reports with the MO Department of Labor and impacted the ability for local teachers to meet with administration to discuss wages and working conditions.

In the fall of 2018, a suit was filed to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The judge has declared HB1413 void in its entirety and the MO Department of Labor is prohibited from administering or enforcing any of the provisions.

This decision does not prevent the legislature from trying again with a new bill either this legislative session or in the future. In addition, the defendants in the suit might appeal the determination of the court. MSTA will update you on proposed legislation and any appeal.

What does this mean to you? If you are the CTA treasurer, you will not be required to file annual financial disclosures on behalf of the CTA and the CTA will no longer need to update information to the MO Department of Labor. As you enter into the budget cycle with your school district, the rules for discussions about salary and benefits revert to pre-1413 days. For example: your district may resume meeting with the salary committee if that is the process you used before 2019. Your school board policy will determine the method for negotiations.

If you have any questions about the requirements, please contact Gail McCray at gmccray@msta.org or your Member Service Coordinator. If you have questions about negotiations, please contact Jane O’Toole at jotoole@msta.org or your Member Service Coordinator.

Bill Summaries

House

Elementary and Secondary Education

HB1347 (Baker) changes the law relating to the prohibition on expenditure of public funds to support or oppose candidates and certain measures.  The bill further prohibits public employees from testifying in favor or against legislation in the Missouri General Assembly.  MSTA testified in opposition.

HB1903 (Shields) allows school districts that share superintendents to receive additional state aid. See story for additional information.

Executive Session

HB1317 (Sommer) mandates school districts to establish a state-approved gifted program if 3% 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. Voted do pass.

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 how districts report and administer seclusion and restraint.  Voted do pass with committee substitute.

Senate

Ways and Means

Executive Session

SB581 (Cierpiot) creates the “Show Me a Bright Future Scholarship Act”. Voted do pass with committee substitute. See story for additional information.

SB583 (Arthur) allows for an income tax deduction for educator expenses. Voted do pass with committee substitute.