September 1, 2014

Changes to higher education funding formula take effect today (AUDIO)

The way Missouri taxpayers fund higher education is changing today.

A new law requires state colleges and universities to set standards for student retention, graduation rates, and job placement.   Ninety percent of any proposed funding increase for any given school will be based on whether the school has met its own standards.

The schools could set easily-achievable goals but the sponsor of the bill, Senator David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), doesn’t think that’s likely.  “I’m very confident universities will come up with rigorous standards…The department of higher education…will have some input to say, ‘…this really probably isn’t strong enough,’” he says.

The legislature, which appropriates money to the institutions, also can evaluate the standards.  He says Universities that don’t achieve will get smaller funding increases, or no increases, a situation that will send a message to a university’s governing board members that things need to be improved.

The bill is becoming law today but its impact won’t be felt until the next state budget is written.

AUDIO: Pearce interview 17:07

Most Missouri children have their school shots (AUDIO)

Most of the school children starting classes in Missouri have gotten their required immunizations.  But many have not. Most of the children got their first immunizations before they were three years old. Some have had booster shots before the opening of their schools.

State Health Department figures say better than eight in ten children get immunizations for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus immunizations early on.  More than nine out of ten have their anti-polio shots as well as those for measles and mumps.  The same for hepatitis B and chickenpox.

The state school immunization law allows people with religious objections or with health conditions to be exempt.

Health Department spokesman Ryan Hobart says there are some shots that people might want to get even if they’re not required.  College students, he notes, might want to get anti-meningitis shots, especially if they will be living in dormitories.  A new state law effective next July will require students living in dormitories at state institutions of higher education to have those shots.

The Health Department web page lists the immunizations that are required and when they should be administered:

Education officials to state Board: drop in student assessment scores not cause for concern

Missouri education officials don’t know why student test scores are down, but they’re telling the State Board of Education not to worry.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

On Missouri Assessment Program tests, 2 percent fewer public school students passed communication arts this year and point-seven percent fewer students passed in math. Third and fourth grade communication arts scores and fourth grade math scores saw declines between 6 and 8 percent.

Curriculum assessment coordinator Michael Minx says work to identify a cause has failed.

“We’ve spent time lining up school districts by achievement and number of days in school,” he says, as an example of one technique used. “That showed some drops some places and some gains some places, so you really couldn’t see a pattern there. I’ve had some folks contact me and say, ‘Well yeah, that for us … our instruction was kind of crazy this past year so it makes sense. Other people, it doesn’t make sense.”

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro says the Department has always said a year-to-year change in scores is not worth getting excited over.

“A one year decline in scores is not something that we need to press the panic button over,” says Nicastro, who says scores have been steadily improving in recent years. “We have had an upward trend, so what we’ve said here with this Board and the Department repeatedly is that you can’t use one year of data to make any determinations. We rely on multiple years of data … to make good decisions.”

Nicastro says it is good news that more than 300 districts in the state progressed in either math or communication arts or both.

“While the statewide average did go down, and we’re certainly disappointed about that, I think what’s really important is to look at where the increases happened, what they were doing to make that kind of improvement, and what it is in those districts that did not improve that caused them to go down,” says Nicastro.

Districts will not receive individual results until late this month. Nicastro says when they do, they can begin to look for their own answers.

Campus sexual assault bill filed. (AUDIO)

Senator McCaskill hopes for quick Senate action on the campus sexual assault bill she has been working on for several months.

She has been holding roundtable discussions with college officials and other meetings trying to determine the scope of the problem and which of varying approaches works best.  She admits there are some things she had to give up to get the bipartisan co-sponsors.

The bill requires any schools getting federal funds  to designate confidential advisers who can meet with sexual assault victims; to train competent personnel to look into allegations; and to work with local law enforcement.  “I think there’s a chance that we can get some floor time and pass this in fairly quick order in September,” she says.

The bill also says allegations against student athletes must be investigated through the general University process, not by the athletic department.  And it sets up financial penalties for schools that don’t comply.

Although she hopes for a fast track in the Senate, she says it’s anybody’s guess what will happen in the House.

AUDIO: McCaskll conference call

School supplies sales tax holiday starts (AUDIO)

The annual school supplies sales tax holiday has started, but not for a lot of cities and counties. And for some people, sales tax holidays happen every day.

The state does not collect its sales tax on numerous items  on the first weekend of each August that are considered school supplies.  But the items don’t have be bought for or by students and they don’t have to be taken to school.

Cities and counties can forego local sales taxes if they want, but more than 160 cities and almost 50 counties have decided to keep collecting them.

Missouri Retailers Association President David Overfelt says a lot of people don’t wait for a sales tax holiday. “These items can be bought sales tax free every day,” he says, referring to the internet, which seldom collects sales taxes on purchases.  But he  says the tax holiday emphasizes the importance of shopping at home, where sales taxes often finance many local services.

Some local fiscal officers say their cities or counties cannot afford to go a weekend without collecting local sales taxes.  But the Revenue Department never has been able to confirm whether they lose money on weekends such as this.

The Revenue Department has a site that lists the things that can be bought without a state sales tax this weekend.



AUDIO: Overfelt 7:58