A major education bill, soundly defeated earlier in the House, will return to the floor for debate Thursday with two days left in the legislative session.
The House Rules Committee approved a stripped down version of the bill, hoping to remove portions that attracted so many negative votes Tuesday. HCS SS SB 291 received only 43 votes after five hours of debate that added nine amendments to an already massive education bill that touch a wide variety of issues dealing with public schools. The 43-to-116 defeat took the House sponsor, Rep. Maynard Wallace (R-Thornfield), by surprise and created confusion in the House chamber before Wallace committed the bill to the Rules Committee in an effort to resurrect it.
Wallace met with Senate sponsor, Senate Pro Tem Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), in his office Wednesday morning along with staff members from both the House and Senate to fashion a bill that both chambers could accept. Controversial issues, such as bullying provisions and a quality rating system for pre-schools were stripped from the bill. Provisions that drove up the bills cost to an estimated $108 million have been removed, such as an expansion of the gifted program and an extension of the A-plus program to all public schools.
The new House version of the bill will expand the state virtual schools program, create a flexible scheduling program for high school students that would allow students to hold an approved job while continuing their education, offer merit pay to St. Louis school teachers willing to give up tenure and create a P20 council to better integrate schooling for students from pre-school to college.
One thing is certain; Senate President Pro Tem Shields doesn’t want the bill to return to a Senate-House conference committee.
"I don’t think you will see a conference committee on this," Shields said. "I think it will be the bill that comes out of the House, I believe, will be acceptable and be able to be passed in the Senate."
With only two days left in the legislative session, there simply isn’t enough time to go back to conference. Is there enough time left in the session to pass it at all?
"Oh, plenty of time," Shields responded.
How can Shields be so confident?
"There is a lot of legislation that gets written in the last two days of the session," said Shields. "All the elements are there. I mean, most of these pieces have been vetted. A lot of things that created problems on the House side with the House Committee Substitute will be removed from this bill. And I think that puts it in position to be able to pass it."