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Novel coronavirus to impact legislative session

On Thursday, the Missouri Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr, Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo issued a statement that the House will be in session next week to meet their constitutional duty of writing and passing a balanced budget, but will work to minimize risk for members, staff and visitors.  Regular committee meetings are being canceled, and the House will work for only two days to expedite their work on crafting the state budget before leaving for spring break.

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz announced the Senate will not be in session next week and pausing nonessential legislative activity to protect those who work in and visit the State Capitol. The legislative spring break was set to begin on March 19.   

These announcements come after a bipartisan legislative leadership announcement earlier in the week.  Leaders in both chambers stressed they are working to minimize exposure to the new coronavirus disease and encouraged guests who are not directly participating in legislative business to refrain from visiting the Capitol at this time, including school groups, advocacy groups and the public at large.

MSTA lobbyists will continue to monitor the legislative session.  MSTA Region Capitol visits that are scheduled for after spring break will be evaluated as we get closer to those dates and receive more information from the Legislature and the State Department of Health and Senior Services. If you have considered attending a MSTA Region Capitol Visit, please register online to ensure you have all of the latest information on scheduling.   

State Board of Education gets briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19)

The State Board of Education was briefed this week on actions from the State of Missouri and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding the new coronavirus disease.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have provided guidance for K-12 schools.   

According to the  CDC, “Health officials are currently taking steps to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 into US communities. Schools can play an important role in this effort. Through collaboration and coordination with local health departments, schools can take steps to disseminate information about the disease and its potential transmission within their school community. Schools can prepare to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their students and staff should local health officials identify such a need.

“Schools should continue to collaborate, share information, and review plans with local health officials to help protect the whole school community, including those with special health needs. School plans should be designed to minimize disruption to teaching and learning and protect students and staff from social stigma and discrimination. Plans can build on everyday practices (e.g., encouraging hand hygiene, monitoring absenteeism, communicating routinely) that include strategies for before, during, and after a possible outbreak.”

The Department also briefed the Board on the proactive steps that are being taken to monitor and protect Missouri’s State Schools.  DESE staff has reached out to higher education teacher prep programs as well.  Although the law passed last session allowing districts to use alternative methods of instruction has not gone into effect, the department already has guidance that can help districts should they elect to look at a distance learning option.  Work has been underway to ensure the department can continue to operate under any conditions.

School districts have been encouraged to work closely with their local health departments and the State Department of Health regarding appropriate measures for local communities.   

MSTA will continue to update members regarding the Missouri state response to the new coronavirus disease as more information is available.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has activated a statewide public hotline for citizens or providers needing guidance regarding the novel coronavirus.  The hotline number is 877-435-8411.

House Pensions Committee hears two PSRS bills

This week the House Pensions Committee reviewed two bills dealing with working after retirement in the Public School Retirement System (PSRS). Both bills are designed to help school districts that have trouble filling teaching and substitute teaching positions.

HB2291(R. Black) expands the Critical Shortage provisions in PSRS.  Currently a retiree can go back to work full time for a district in an area that is deemed as a critical shortage in a district and receive full retirement benefits and full pay for two years.  This bill expands the time a retiree can do this from two years to four years.   

HB2460 (R. Black) creates a Missouri Emergency Substitute Teacher Pool. By Sept. 10 of each school year, each participating district must notify the system of its desire to utilize the pool. The pool allows any retired member of PSRS to be employed by a district that is participating in the Emergency Substitute Teaching Pool as a temporary or long-term substitute and be allowed to earn up to the federal Social Security annual earnings exemption (currently $18,240). Currently all PSRS retirees that go back to substitute teach are limited to working 550 hours and making no more than 50% of the pay for that position.  Districts that opt into the Missouri Emergency Substitute Teacher Pool will pay a contribution rate of two-thirds for each retiree.  With the current contribution rate of 14.5 %, each district would pay 9.67% to the retirement system.

Retirees who work for districts that do not opt into the Missouri Emergency Substitute Teacher will still be subject to the 550 hour and 50% pay restrictions.  A retiree who works for multiple districts with one or more opting into the Missouri Emergency Substitute Teacher Pool will be able to work with both limits in place.

The bill also expands the Critical Shortage provisions in PSRS that are contained in HB2291 by expanding the time a retiree can do this from two years to four years.   

The bill does not make any changes for members of PSRS that work for a community college and includes a sunset for these new provisions of June 30, 2024.

Senate committee hears literacy bill

The Senate Education Committee heard a bill this week that changes how a school district deals with students that struggle with reading.

SB966 (O’Laughlin) modifies current law regarding reading success plans, formerly known as reading intervention programs. Each local school district and charter school must have on file a policy for reading success plans for any pupils of the district in grades kindergarten through four, rather than through grade three. Each policy must be aligned with the guidelines developed by the DESE for reading intervention plans. Any guidelines for instruction must meet the needs of the student by ensuring that instruction is explicit, systematic and diagnostic.  The guidelines must emphasize that frequent assessments are necessary to measure student progress.

Each local school district and charter school is required to include individual and small group reading development activities in an individual pupil’s reading success plan. The plan shall be developed after consultation with the pupil’s parent or legal guardian. Under current law, such provisions are not mandatory.

The bill requires that each school district and charter school administer a reading assessment or set of assessments to each student within the first 30 days of school for grades one through four, and by Jan. 31 for kindergarten unless a student has been determined in the previous school year to be reading at grade level or above. School districts and charter schools are required to provide reading success plans to students with an individualized education plan (IEP) that have a reading deficiency,

The bill also requires that school districts and charter schools offer a reading success plan to each K-4 student who exhibits a reading deficiency that has been identified as being at risk for dyslexia in the statewide dyslexia screening requirement or has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. The reading success plan shall be provided in addition to the core reading instruction provided to all students. Any K-4 student who exhibits a deficiency in reading at any time, based upon local or statewide screening assessments, will receive an individual reading success plan no later than 45 days after the identification of the deficiency. The plan will be created by the teacher and other pertinent school personnel, along with the parent or legal guardian, and must describe the evidence-based reading improvement services the student will receive. The reading success plan shall specify if a student was found to be at risk for dyslexia in the statewide dyslexia screening or if the student has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia.

Under this act, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, students who are not reading at grade level by the end of the second grade must receive appropriate reading intervention to remedy the student’s specific reading deficiency.

School districts and charter schools are required to provide reading intervention for any student not reading proficient or above on a local or statewide third-grade reading assessment in the child’s third-grade year, or at proficient or above in the child’s subsequent grade level starting in the fourth grade, and who have a reading success plan.   

Under current law, each student for whom a reading success plan has been designed shall be given another reading assessment to be administered within 45 days of the end of the student’s fourth-grade year. If such student is determined to be reading below third-grade level, the student shall be required to attend summer school. This act repeals that requirement, and instead requires such student to be referred for an evaluation for an IEP plan and the district must provide appropriate intensive structured literacy instruction on an individualized basis. If the student does not qualify for an IEP, the student shall continue to receive appropriate, intensive structured literacy instruction on an individualized basis until the student is reading at grade level.

Finally, the bill requires the board of each school district and charter school to post, by Sept. 1  of each year, by building, the number and percentage of all students in grades 3-8 scoring at each proficiency level on the English language arts statewide assessment; by building, the number and percentage of all students in grades 3-8 in each demographic category scoring proficiency level on the English language arts statewide assessment; by district, the number and percentage of all students in grades 3-8 scoring at each proficiency level on the English language arts statewide assessment; and by district, the number and percentage of all students in grades 3-8 in each demographic category scoring at each proficiency level on the English language arts statewide assessment.

House continues work on education bills

The House gave initial approval to HB1483 (Rehder).  The underlying bill requires criminal background checks to be conducted on any person who is 18 years of age or older and is enrolled in classes that take place on school property during regular school hours.  The applicant would be prohibited from enrolling if they have been convicted of or plead guilty to an offense that would prevent the issuance of a teaching certificate.   

Rep. Becky Ruth added an amendment to the bill that would allow substitute teachers to send a completed background check to up to five school districts at the time the background check is made for an additional cost of $5 for each district.  Many substitute teachers must get a completely new background check for each district they work in.

The House gave final approval and sent to the Senate HB1903 (Shields) that would allow a school district that enters into an agreement with another district to share a superintendent to receive an additional $30,000 per year in state aid for up to five years. The bill directs districts to spend the additional compensation and half of the savings from having a full-time superintendent on teacher salaries or counseling services.

It should be noted that this is not a requirement for districts, and there might be other ways that districts can work together in order to be more efficient and put more money into improving teachers’ salaries, and services for students.

Earlier this year the State Board of Education set as one of their legislative priorities to encourage school districts to share service in order to become more efficient.  This bill is in response to this priority.

Bills presented in House and Senate to boost workforce development in education

HB2174 (Pollitt) was presented in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, while SB830 (Cunningham) was heard in the Senate Education Committee.  These bills contain many of the same provisions, designed to create greater flexibility for Missouri schools.

These bills allow school innovation teams to submit a plan to the State Board of Education for a state innovation waiver to be exempt from certain state rules or laws for elementary schools.  The innovation plan must include one or more of the following reasons:  Improving student readiness for employment, higher education, or other job or career training, increasing the compensation for teachers, or improving the recruitment or retention of teachers.    

Plans submitted to the State Board of Education must include identifying the specific law for which the waiver is being requested and provide an explanation for why the law inhibits the ability of the school to accomplish the goal in the plan, why the waiver is necessary, and include measurable annual performance targets and goals for the implementation of the plan.

Only one waiver may be in effect per school at a time, and the State Board of Education may not waive any laws relating to teacher certification, teacher tenure, or any requirement imposed by federal law.   

Currently, Individual Career and Academic Plans are optional. This bill requires students to develop a plan which must be reviewed once per semester by school personnel and the student’s parent or guardian. The plan must include a declaration of a student’s postsecondary plan.

The bill requires students in public and private schools to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before being able to graduate. Students may be granted an exemption to this requirement if they are enlisting in the Armed Forces, or their parent objects. The bill requires the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development to establish a procedure for high school students enrolled in career and technical education programs to complete an application for aid through the Employment and Training Administration of the United States Department of Labor under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Changes to virtual education passed out of House Education Committee 

HB2491 (Christofanelliwas amended prior to being voted out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.  The bill would make changes to the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program.  Currently, virtual school programs may be operated by a district or included in a library overseen by the DESE.  The bill would move responsibility for the online students test scores from the district of residence to the virtual school, and would allow the virtual school to be paid directly from the state.   

The bill changes the amount that a virtual provider may charge, from an amount that could be up to the state adequacy target, to a mandated 100% of the average per-pupil expenditure.   Each district must notify parents of their child’s right to participate in the program and failing to do so would result in civil penalties of $100 for each day the district or charter school is not in compliance.  

HB2491 allows virtual school providers to remove students from the program if the provider believes it is in the best education interest of the student.   

Bill Summaries 

 House 

Downsizing State Government 

HB2476 (Walsh) adds all public employee retirement systems and quasi-governmental entity employee salaries to the government accountability portal. 

Elementary and Secondary Education 

HB2174 (Pollitt) modifies provisions governing workforce development in elementary and secondary education. 

Executive Session 

HB2491 (Christofanelli) modifies provisions related to the virtual school program. Voted do pass with committee substitute. 

Pensions 

HB2291 (R. Black) Modifies provisions relating to the duration of time for which retired teachers and school employees may teach without losing their retirement benefits. MSTA testified in support. 

HB2460 (R. Black) modifies provisions relating to teacher and school employee retirement. MSTA testified in support. 

Senate 

Government Reform 

SB996 (Onder) modifies provisions related to the virtual school program. 

Education 

SB626 (Nasheed) requires every school in the St. Louis City school district to use a response-to-intervention tiered approach to reading instruction for students struggling to read. 

SB830 (Cunningham) modifies provisions related to workforce development in elementary and secondary education. 

SB986 (O’Laughlinrequires each local district and charter school to have a policy for reading success plans for certain pupils in grades kindergarten through four. 

Executive Session 

PSRS candidates certified for election 

MSTA, Missouri Association of School Administrators and Missouri National Education Association candidates Darren Farmer and Dr. Melinda Moss have both received the required number of signed petitions to be placed on the Public School Retirement System Board of Trustees ballot.  There will be two other candidates on the ballot as well.  The Missouri Retired Teachers Association is backing two candidates, both administrators, who will also appear on the ballot.   

MSTA and MASA approached MRTA with information regarding the candidates approved by their boards and the importance of maintaining a board that is reflective of the membership of the system, yet they elected to back their own candidates.  The elected board must be comprised of active members of the system.  Currently there are two administrators and two teachers on the elected board.    

It is important that both geographic and demographic balance is maintained, and that active teachers have a voice in the important decisions of the retirement system.  Darren Farmer is an agriculture education teacher in the Polo R-VII School District.  He is a former president of the Missouri Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association and leader in his district, as well as a current member of the MSTA Legislative Impact Committee.   

Dr. Melinda Moss came to education after a career in finance and the banking industry.  After serving as a special education teacher and counselor, she became a school principal in Reeds Spring.  After spending time in public education in Arkansas, she returned to Missouri to lead the Joplin School District. Dr. Moss has the leadership and experience to continue to ensure the retirement system recruits and retains the best employees and keeps its promises to retirees.  We must continue to ensure that women are well represented in leadership positions in education.    

Ballots will be mailed to all retirement system members on April 23, 2020. PSRS system members are encouraged to fill out their ballots to support both Darren Farmer and Dr. Melinda Moss to ensure that the retirement system board will be a strong voice for all stakeholders in the retirement system, including future, current, and retired teachers.