The 2018 legislative session might have been overshadowed by the investigations and possible impeachment of Gov. Eric Greitens, but that did not keep the legislators for having a very productive year.
Public education was a big winner as charter school expansion, vouchers, and other anti-public education issues were never brought to a vote. Instead the legislature focused on making improvements to public education that benefit our students, teachers, schools and communities.
Topping the list of accomplishments was a long sought-after priority for MSTA. Placing a teacher on the State Board of Education has been in the MSTA Resolutions for over 10 years and finally a bill (actually two bills) has been sent to the governor for his approval.
Past MSTA State President and current State Representative Becky Ruth worked extremely hard for years to negotiate a bill that could pass both the House and Senate and advocated tirelessly for the idea among her colleagues in the legislature. Sen. Wayne Wallingford sponsored the bill and offered it as an amendment in the Senate. Wallingford believes that this was a common-sense idea that should have been done years ago. It is also worth noting that the bill was passed as part of HB1606 sponsored by Elaine Gannon, a retired teacher and a 32-year member of MSTA. Rep. Craig Redmon and Sen. David Sater deserve our thanks for allowing this to be part of SB743 which was also sent to the governor.
Included in the legislation passed were a wide range of changes that were made to school calendars, career and technical education, Braille instruction, the teacher retirement system, virtual education, gifted education and early childhood education.
Not to be forgotten in all of the policy legislation that passed is the fact that the legislature approved a budget that placed funding for K-12 education as a priority. Highlighting the spending package is a nearly $99 million increase for the foundation formula that funds schools throughout the state. The increase is enough to fully fund the formula. This is the second year in a row that the legislature has fully funded the foundation formula. Transportation funding will also see an increase of $10 million under the new budget.
With final passage of SB892 (Walsh) changes have been made to the PSRS/PEERS working-after-retirement rules.
The new law would allow a person who is drawing a benefit from the Public School Retirement System (PSRS) to go back to work in a position in a district covered under the PEERS system and make up to 60 percent of the state minimum teacher’s salary. The retiree would not contribute to the retirement system or earn creditable service. The employer’s contribution rate will be paid by the hiring district.
Currently a PSRS retiree who goes to work in a PEERS position is only allowed to work for 550 hours and make 50 percent of the pay for that position. Any retiree who exceeds that limit would not be eligible to receive their retirement allowance for any month where they are in excess of the limits.
MSTA supports a limitation based on salary and not number of hours worked. Currently, there are retired teachers who go back to work driving a bus and end up not being able to work the entire school year because they hit the 550-hour limit. Under this proposal, a retired teacher could return to work driving a bus and work as much as they wanted as long as they did not make more than $15,000 (the current state minimum teacher’s salary is $25,000).
The Senate did not act on the appointments to the State Board of Education submitted by Gov. Eric Greitens, and their ability to ever serve on the board again remains uncertain.
When Greitens took office in January of 2017, there were three members of the State Board of Education who were serving on expired terms. With the abundance of boards and commissions under the governor, many positions on boards across Missouri government remain unfilled, or have members serving on expired terms. Members can continue to serve on many state boards until a replacement is nominated. Between July 31 and Dec. 1, the governor appointed 10 people to fill five vacancies that existed through resignations, expired terms and the withdrawal of the governor’s own appointments.
Minutes before the 2018 legislative session convened, Greitens withdrew his nominees and once the Senate was in session, reappointed the five previous nominees. Although interim appointments can serve and vote in the capacity of the office, they must be confirmed in the first 30 days of any session. Appointments made during session must be confirmed before they can act in an official capacity. Until the Senate approves appointments to the SBOE, there are now only three members of the eight-member board who are able to take votes, not enough to conduct regular business or hire a new commissioner.
On the first day of the legislative session, several senators said they would oppose all of Greitens’ appointees to the SBOE. They questioned that if those appointees were truly independent voices. It became clear the appointees were put in place with the goal of firing former Commissioner of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven.
During the session, the Senate held a confirmation hearing on only one appointee, Eddy Justice. He was voted out of the Gubernatorial Appointment Committee and was brought before the full Senate. After only 20 minutes of debate, the motion to approve Justice was withdrawn and placed back in the hands of the Senate. No other appointees to the board received hearings from the Senate committee. Greitens attempted to submit a letter to the Senate stating that the appointees no longer wished to serve on the board, and their appointments should no longer be considered. The Senate refused to receive the letter and had it officially returned to the governor. With the Senate not returning the names to the governor, the Senate believes that those individuals are banned for life from again serving on the board. The governor cited a 1977 Attorney General’s opinion, which does not carry the force and effect of law, that when those members resign during the confirmation process they retain their right to be reappointed. Leaders in the Senate are at odds with this interpretation of law. Senate leaders believe the refusal of the Senate to confirm the appointees and not allowing the governor to withdraw their names from consideration bars them from ever serving on the State Board of Education.
The governor will not be able to appoint new members to the board until the regular legislative session fully adjourns on May 30. The legislature is currently scheduled to enter a special session at 6:30 p.m., on Friday May 18. Any appointments made while the legislature is in a special session must be considered during the special session. Once all sessions have adjourned, the governor will have the ability to appoint members who will have the full rights and responsibilities of board members until the legislature is again in session and will review their appointments.
The previously scheduled meeting of the SBOE for May 15, 2018, was canceled due to a lack of a quorum. The State Board of Education has not held a meeting since the Jan. 8, 2018 public hearing to take testimony from the public on the search for a new commissioner. The next meeting of the State Board of Education is currently not scheduled.
The following bills relating to education were passed during the legislative session and await action from the governor.
SB603 (Onder) changes the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program to “The Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program.” School districts and charter schools must adopt a policy for student enrollment in the Missouri course access and virtual school program that is substantially similar to the student enrollment process for courses offered in the brick-and-mortar school. Public schools shall pay the costs of enrollment in virtual courses for full-time students who attended a public school for at least one semester immediately before enrolling in the virtual courses.
SB687 (Sater) allows school districts, by a majority vote of the local school board, to allocate less than 1 percent, but not less than half a percent to the professional development committee when the school district is appropriated less than 25 percent of the allowable costs of providing transportation under the foundation formula. The bill has a six-year sunset. The bill allows the Kansas City Public School Board to contract for transportation of high school students for extra-curricular activities.
SB743 (Sater) is an omnibus education bill that:
- Adds a teacher as a non-voting member to the State Board of Education.
- Extends the sunset on the requirement that DESE continue to be the fiscal agent for student organizations.
- Updates the definition of school librarian and requires DESE to create a recognition program of top school library programs in the state.
- Allows Kansas City schools to pay for public transportation for students involved in extracurricular activities.
- Changes requirement for schools to be in session from a set number of days to a set number of hours.
- Creates an appeal process for students denied a gifted designation and allows for accelerated grade promotion for gifted students.
- Requires the Department of Economic Development to identify occupations and careers where critical shortage exists and provide the info to DESE and school districts. Also allows students to take the ACT WorkKeys assessment in place of the ACT whenever the state provides funding for the ACT test.
SB892 (Walsh) modifies provisions relating to retirement. This legislation includes the changes to PSRS retirees who return to work in PEERS covered positions.
SB894 (Libla) establishes a statewide STEM Career Awareness Program for students in grades six through eight. The bill requires DESE to develop a high school graduation policy that allows a student to fulfill one unit of academic credit with a district approved computer science course for any math, science, or practical arts unit for high school graduation. DESE will convene a workgroup to develop and recommend academic performance standard relating to computer science for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. These standards will be adopted and implemented beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. DESE will also develop a procedure for licensed teachers who demonstrate sufficient content knowledge of computer science to receive a special endorsement on their license.
HB1415 (Lauer) modifies provisions relating to workforce development. The bill includes language that allows teachers to count externship hours toward professional development, changes to the career and technical education advisory council and extends the sunset on the Missouri Works Community College New Jobs Training Fund.
HB1606 (Gannon) is an omnibus education bill that:
- Allows DESE to subsidize the examination fee for first-time test takers of the high school equivalency test (HiSET), subject to state appropriation.
- Adds a teacher as a non-voting member to the SBOE.
- Requires notification to parents and students of an electronic data breach.
- Establishes the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program.
- Makes changes to Braille instruction.
- Allows local school boards to allocate less than 1 percent to professional development committee, but not less than one half percent.
- Specifies that DESE shall handle career and technical student organization funds.
- Allows teachers to count externship hours toward professional development.
- Requires school districts to establish a policy on student acceleration.
- Requires school districts to adopt appeal procedures for gifted education programs.
- Requires high schools to provide information related to careers and salaries to students.
- Allows a school district to use a calendar based on hours of attendance rather than hours and days of attendance as long as the minimum number of hours is at least 1,044 hours of actual pupil attendance.
- Allows school districts to establish academic and career counseling programs in cooperation with parents and the local community.
- Allows schools to fill vacant early childhood education enrollment spots with another student without affecting the school’s calculation of average daily attendance.
- Changes the process by which travel hardships are granted to students in certain districts.
- Requires course materials and instruction relating to human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases to contain information about sexual harassment, sexual violence, and consent.
HB1665 (Swan) allows the State Board of Education to grant an initial visiting scholar certificate as a license to teach in public schools. The applicant must be employed in a content area in which the individual has an academic degree or professional experience. The applicant may only teach high school courses as part of a business-education partnership initiative designed to build career pathway systems for students. The certificate will last for one year and may be renewed a maximum of two times.
HB2129 (Cookson) allows local school boards to have authority to consider whether organ donation information will be presented to students. The board will also have the authority to decide the manner in which the information will be presented.