April 21, 2014

School transfer proposal to be a focus for House in next two weeks

Attempts to fix issues with Missouri’s student transfer law will be one of the focuses in the last four weeks of the legislative session.

Representative Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Numerous lawmakers and groups have been working this session on possible changes to a 1993 law that lays out how students can transfer from districts that have lost accreditation to better-performing districts. That law has caused financial problems in unaccredited districts, who must pay for those transfers.

Representative Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) is the handler of a Senate transfer fix bill (SB 493) that will be brought up in a House committee Tuesday.  Stream hopes the bill can clear the committee Tuesday and reach the House Floor the following Monday, three weeks before the end of the session.

He says it is a priority for House leadership. “The Speaker and the Floor Leader have promised to move it quickly … we’re going to move this bill fast.”

That bill, which cleared the Senate in February, already proposes determining whether individual school buildings are accredited and only removing an entire district’s accreditation if 55 percent of its buildings are unaccredited, disallowing transfers for students who have not lived in an unaccredited school’s jurisdiction for less than a calendar year, and allowing students to transfer to private, non-religious schools or accredited buildings in the same or an adjacent county.

Stream says after talking to many lawmakers in both parties and both chambers, education groups and the Legislative Black Caucus, three key changes to the Senate bill will be considered Tuesday.

One would be to ask sending districts to pay 70 percent of their own tuition to the school districts taking their students, rather than 90 percent of a receiving district’s rate as is currently written in the Senate legislation.

“That stabilizes what the sending districts are going to have to pay each year,” says Stream. He says that will make it easier for sending districts to budget for transfers. “They didn’t know this year how much money they were going to have to send out because kids were leaving and going to different districts … anywhere from Clayton which was $20,000 to Ladue which was $17,000, to Kirkwood which was $12,000, to Francis Howell which was $11,000.”

A second change would add charter schools to the places a student in an unaccredited school building can transfer.

“If our goal is to get all of the students in these unaccredited districts into a high-quality educational environment right away, then we have to give them the options to do that.”

A third alteration would have review teams help districts on the verge of unaccreditation figure out how to stop sliding.

“We put in a lot of assistance or review teams,” Stream tells Missourinet, “to come in and analyze what’s going on in these provisionally accredited districts and borderline accredited districts to help them turn their districts around so they don’t eventually slide in to unaccreditation or provisional accreditation.”

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) says his caucus is trying to build a strong majority of support for student transfer legislation. Governor Jay Nixon (D) has said he opposes allowing the use of state money to pay for students to transfer to private schools, which SB 493 would.

Missourinet asked Jones if Republican leaders are gearing up for the possibility that Nixon would veto the transfer bill and they would have to try and overturn him.

“Everything’s going to have to be on the table to solve an issue that is extremely important for us to solve this year,” says Jones.

Nixon announces $22-million in education withholds (VIDEO)

Governor Jay Nixon (D) says the legislature didn’t go far enough to fund education in the supplemental budget it sent him this week, so he’s going to withhold money from the current fiscal year’s budget equal to a shortfall in gaming and lottery revenues.

Nixon and his administration earlier this year issued letters and testified to lawmakers and told the media that $44.1-million would be needed in the mid-fiscal year budget for K-12 education to make up for the shortfall. The legislature put $22-million in that bill, with House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) saying when it passed out of the House that he would put the remaining $22-million in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Nixon said the legislature’s actions result in a cut to K-12 education that was avoidable.

“The need was clear. The General Revenue was and continues to be available and there was absolutely no reason why our students shouldn’t have gotten the resources they were promised,” Nixon said in a conference with media on Thursday. “Unfortunately despite our clear and repeated warnings about the consequences, the General Assembly has once again failed to make funding for education a priority.”

Today Nixon announced he would withhold $3.2 million each from community colleges and four-year institutions and $15.6-million from the K-12 foundation formula.  He is calling on the legislature to put that $22-million in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Nixon discusses the budget withhold and other issues with the media:

House turns Common Core elimination bill into plan to develop new standard

The state House has turned a bill that would have completely scrapped in Missouri the Common Core education standard into one that will give it a chance, while developing its potential successor.

Representative Kurt Bahr (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Kurt Bahr (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The original bill filed by Representative Kurt Bahr (R-St. Charles) would have prevented the implementation of Common Core State Standards in Missouri without legislative approval. The bill was amended on the House floor to allow those standards to progress while a commission is created to create a new standard. 

Bahr says the amendments came from language the Senate is considering.

“We’re going to create the process in which we’re going to look at the standards and say, ‘How do we want to move forward for standards for the State of Missouri?’” Bahr tells Missourinet. “Are we simply going to blanketly accept Common Core standards or are we going to have Missouri standards written by Missouri teachers, Missouri parents and the stakeholders within Missouri and then change our assessments so that they are in-house?”

Some lawmakers who say they didn’t oppose Common Core did have problems with how its impact would be assessed, saying teachers might have suffered poor evaluations as a result of poor student performance while adjusting to the new standards. One of the amendments to the bill would prevent assessment test scores from the 2014-15 school year from counting toward school accountability or accreditation.

Representative Genise Montecillo (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Genise Montecillo (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I think this sort of alleviated some of the members’ concerns,” says Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis). She says with the changes approved Tuesday the bill, “was a good compromise and it doesn’t put districts in a bind that they have to dismantle what they’ve been working towards.”

The proposal would create a 14-member work group with members selected by the state’s professional teachers’ organizations, associations of state school boards and charter schools, the speaker of the House, the Senate president pro-tem, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the commissioner of higher education and the heads of state-approved baccalaureate-level teacher preparation programs.

That group will develop standards for English, language arts, math, history and government and present recommendations to the Board of Education next year. Those standards would then be implemented in the 2016-17 school year.

Bahr says during the two years before implementation, while Common Core is in place in Missouri, it will be evaluated and recommendations could include partial or full implementation of it.

The proposal would need another favorable vote to go to the Senate.

House overwhelmingly endorses student religious liberty legislation

The House has given broad bipartisan first-round approval to a bill that, its sponsor says, is necessary to make clear for school districts what the law in Missouri says about students’ religious liberties.

Representative Elijah Haahr (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Elijah Haahr (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill (HB 1303) is offered by Representative Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield).

He says students’ ability to express religious beliefs in schools is jeopardized not by school districts, but by organizations who take advantage of unclear state statute to sue school districts in order to block such expressions.

“As an attorney I know the money is made in the gray areas,” says Haahr. “When the statute’s unclear, the case law’s unclear, that’s where attorneys get excited and they want to make a move. If we lay out something clear … as long as a school district follows the state statutes, it makes it very hard for anyone to bring a case against them.”

The legislation won broad support on the initial, or “perfection,” vote, 128-20, including from at least one lawmaker who had earlier opposed it.

“I think what this bill does is protected already,” says Representative Margo McNeil (D-Florissant), a former teacher who voted against the bill in committee but voted for it Wednesday. “Perhaps putting it in state statute would make school districts in service their teachers on how to deal with religious issues … I think that it is a valid concern.”

Opponents argue the bill increases the likelihood of litigation against schools.

Representative Bob Burns (D-St. Louis) says some school districts can’t afford additional litigation.

“Some districts just will not challenge because they’re in such financial difficulty. They realize even having that attorney sit at a school board meeting costs an astronomical amount of money at the end of the year.”

The proposal needs another favorable vote to be sent to the Senate.

Making up snow days (AUDIO)

Missouri schools hope they’ve called off school for the last time because of snow and ice.  They now have to decide how many of those days they will make up.

The state education department will learn when school districts file reports at the end of the school year how many hundreds or thousands of days classes have been cancelled because of weather.  At least one district has called off 27 days of classes.

Department School Services Coordinator Roger Dorson says state law has some makeup requirements. Districts required to have six snow makeup days built into their calendar.  If they have more than six snow days, they have to make up half of the next eight days. 

Local school boards can decide if any days more than ten will be made up either with weekend classes or extending the school year schedule.

But Dorson says extending the school year very far can cause problems with summer school schedules, family vacations, and college work by faculty members looking for additional degrees or training. He says superintendents and boards have to weigh those competing factors.  

AUDIO: Dorson interview 8:43