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The week at a glance

The House subcommittee on appropriations-education met and made minor changes to the governor’s proposed budget for K-12 and higher education funding. These recommendations will now go to the full House Budget Committee to put together the entire state budget. The state budget must be completed by May 5.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce brought former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush to the Capitol to advocate for school choice issues, including charter school expansion and vouchers.

Five MSTA regions had Capitol visits this week. Turnout continues to grow each year. The time and commitment of MSTA members makes this a successful program. It is important that legislators hear from their constituents about important issues relating to students, teachers and communities.

Charter school expansion voted out of committee

With slight modifications, HCS/HB634 (Roeber), was passed out of the House Education Committee. This bill would allow charter schools to be operated in any charter county or first-class county in the state. A person, group, or organization seeking to establish a charter school must first submit the proposed charter to the local school board. The local school board then has 45 days to consider the proposed charter and accept or decline the sponsorship. If the local school board declines to sponsor the charter school or does not respond within the specified time, any other authorized sponsor may enter into a sponsorship agreement. This bill allows for the establishment of a charter school without submitting a proposed charter to the local school board in school districts that are provisionally accredited or unaccredited by the State Board of Education. The bill requires charter schools to enroll resident pupils, nonresident pupils who are residents of a provisionally accredited or unaccredited district when the district is located in a charter county or first class county, or a county adjacent to such counties.  It would also allow students to enroll who are nonresident pupils and have at least one parent employed by the charter school.

The changes to the bill from the original version include scaling back the proposed statewide expansion, and allowing a right of first refusal to local school boards. Counties where there could be possible charter expansion under HCS/HB634 (Roeber) include Boone, Buchanan, Camden, Cape Girardeau, Cass, Christian, Clay, Cole, Franklin, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Platte, St. Charles, St. Francois, St. Louis and Taney. These changes do little to address concerns about local control and accountability for taxpayer dollars.

MSTA’s resolutions support charter schools that are sponsored by the local school district. The right of first refusal in the bill is an ultimatum for school districts, not a voice for citizens in the community. Local officials are elected to make decisions that are in the best interest of the students in the community. If the decision is made that sponsoring a charter is not right for the community, outside groups free from local oversight can still open a charter school over these objections.     

Also, absent from this legislation are accountability measures that would require charter schools to provide a quality education with public tax dollars. Many current charter schools are underperforming in Missouri. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) 2016 Annual Performance Report (APR) scores show that of the 39 charter school local educational agencies, six demonstrated a score consistent with an unaccredited classification and 11 would be classified as provisionally accredited. Four charter schools did not receive an APR score because they are too new to be scored.  Of the 39 charter schools, 18 (46 percent) would have a score consistent with being fully accredited for the 2015-16 school year. These scores are only guides because the State Board of Education does not have the authority to classify charter schools.

Charter schools have been presented as a choice outside of traditional public schools yet their results don’t show a better choice. Since 1999, 59 charter schools have been established and began operating in Missouri. Twenty-one of those 59 charter schools have closed due to academic performance or financial issues. Over $620 million has gone to Missouri charter schools that have closed their doors.

Charter school performance varies greatly, yet consistently failing charters have little oversight or accountability and continue to operate without intervention. This expansion fails to address these issues, and rejects long held beliefs regarding local control in the name of reform.

Retirement bills continue to advance

SB394 (Romine) allows retired members of the Public School Retirement System (PSRS) or Public Education Employees Retirement System (PEERS) who elected a reduced retirement allowance to provide for survivor benefits for his or her spouse to have the retirement allowance increased to the single life annuity amount, with no survivor benefits, if the member and his or her spouse become divorced on or after Sept. 1, 2017, if the dissolution decree provides for sole retention by the retired person of all rights in the retirement allowance. Any such increase in the retirement allowance shall be effective upon the receipt of an application for the increase and a certified copy of the decree of dissolution that meets the requirements of the bill. This bill would also allow a member to change the nomination of a successor beneficiary from 90 days to one year of remarriage. Voted “Do Pass” in the Senate Health and Pensions committee.  

Similar legislation in the House, HB304 (Pike) was passed out of committee and placed on the House Consent calendar.

SB441 (Hegeman) was presented in the Senate Health and Pensions Committee. Current law provides that a retired teacher receiving an allowance from the Missouri Public School Retirement System may work part time for a school district covered by the system and not forfeit his or her retirement allowance. The retired individual may work up to 550 hours and earn up to 50 percent of the annual salary received by the individual while he or she was teaching prior to retirement. SB441 expands this provision to any individual who is employed by a third party or working as an independent contractor as a substitute teacher or other position normally requiring certification. Documentation may be required showing proof of compliance with this provision.  MSTA testified in support of the bill.

House and Senate hear bills dealing with student transfers

Committees in both the House and Senate heard bills dealing with the creation of a process for allowing students from unaccredited school districts to transfer to accredited schools. Current law allows for student transfers, but there were issues that arose when the bill was implemented with students transferring from Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts. The legislature has passed bills dealing with this topic the past two years, only to have the governor veto the bills.

House version

HB118 (Wood) was heard by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. It is a scaled-back version from what the legislature has passed in previous years. This bill includes provisions that allow transfer students to go to a qualified charter school, and sets a tuition cap that is paid by the sending district. It clarifies the intervention powers of the State Board of Education, allows districts eligible to receive transfer students to establish class size limits, and establishes a clear procedure for payment for transportation costs associated with transfer students.

Senate versions

The Senate Education Committee heard two bills that are very similar. SB23 (Chappelle-Nadal) and SB58 (Sifton) are designed after bills that passed the legislature in previous sessions. These bills contain the following provisions: Accreditation by attendance center, establishing a school transfer and implementation task force, compulsory retention for certain students, establishing regional education authorities to oversee the transfer process, clarifying the intervention powers of the State Board of Education and allowing underperforming districts to set policies for home visits.

SB23 includes provisions that allow for transfer students to transfer to a non-sectarian private school and expansion of virtual education. SB 58 excludes these provisions as they were addressed in the veto letter from the governor.

Neither committee took action on the bills.

Changes to funding for small schools fails in committee

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee failed to give approval to a bill that would alter how money distributed through the Small Schools Grant could be spent.

HB357 (Bahr) would have required districts that receive money through the Smalls Schools Grant to only spend the money on distance learning, extraordinary transportation costs, rural teacher recruitment, and student learning opportunities not available within the district.

Small schools objected to this change, as money received through this grant can currently be used for normal operating expenses of the schools. The bill failed with four members voting in favor of the bill and nine members opposing the changes.

Bill Summaries

House Education

HB102 (Swan) allows a music therapist who has completed specific training and examination requirements to be certified by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide music therapist services within the First Steps Program.

HB118 (Wood) changes laws relating to student transfers in unaccredited districts. See related story.

HB577(McCaherty) creates the Public School Library Media and Technology Act and requires any school or district that has a library to have a library media services program. The bill specifies the amount of time the library media specialist shall spend on their duties and the program shall provide resources that contribute to lifelong learning and accommodate differences in instructional methods, interests, and capabilities.

Executive Session

HB358 (Bahr) requires each State Board of Education meeting to be recorded by video and posted on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, archived, provided for free, and easily accessible. The bill also requires each member of the state board to have an individual email address that is available to the public. Voted “Do Pass.”

HB634 (Roeber) expands charter schools in Missouri, with other provisions. Voted “Do Pass” as substituted. See related story.

HJR29 (Dohrman) would submit to the voters of Missouri an amendment to shorten the terms of State Board of Education members from eight years to four years, for a maximum of two terms. Voted “Do Pass.”

HB357(Bahr) modifies the laws relating to the ways in which school districts use monies received through the Small Schools Grant. Motion to “Do Pass” Failed.  See Related Story.

HB257 (Pfautsch) requires each school district to establish an acceleration policy for any student meeting certain requirements.  Voted “Do Pass.”

Pledge to Pledge

Pledge to Pledge, MSTA’s new program connecting legislators to their local schools to lead the pledge of allegiance, is generating many requests. Legislators have been enthusiastic about the opportunity to engage with students on civic involvement in their schools and local communities. If you are interested in asking your legislator to visit, please go to pledge.msta.org

Visit Bunker Hill in 2019