After about twelve hours of debate, the Missouri Senate refrained from voting overnight on a contentious K-12 public education package. There was some confusion towards the end that appeared to ultimately lead to the plan getting shelved – at least for now.
Several changes were made over the course of the day and night. As Senate bill 55 stands now, here is what it would do:
*Allow charter schools in any school district located within a charter county as well as in any Missouri city with a population greater than 30,000 people. Under the bill, charter schools could open in more than 50 districts statewide.
*Let parents use tax credits on things like private school tuition, school supplies, and tutoring. That portion could cost up to $50 million annually. This piece could only begin once state funding for K-12 public school transportation funding reaches 40%. According to Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, the current transportation funding level is at roughly 33%. The amount of tax credits available would also be tied to how much state aid is designated to schools annually.
*Cap Missouri superintendents’ total compensation at three times the average teacher pay within their district.
*Strip a district of state aid if it is a member of a statewide activities association that bans a home school student from participating in activities offered by the district or requires a home school student to attend the school to participate in any activity.
*State Board of Education members would be restricted to one, eight-year term.
*Penalize school districts if they do not get written permission from a parent or a legal guardian prior to handing out course materials or teaching about human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases.
Two provisions originally in the bill were stripped out – a process to recall school board members and giving state aid for full-time equivalent online learning enrollment to a MOCAP virtual school provider.
School choice supporters have pointed to increased educational challenges students and families have dealt with during the coronavirus pandemic as a leading reason to not wait any longer to pass school choice measures.
Rowden has been working vigorously to get the bill passed.
“Everybody knows my passion for this and everybody knows I’d run through a wall to try to get this thing done,” said Rowden.
During floor debate, he said his sister is a principal at a religious school in Columbia.
Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, supports the bill.
“I don’t want to disparage teachers in any way shape or form because I think a lot of teachers feel the same way we do in that we have to be able to have that competition. We have to be able to kind of upset the apple cart in order to incentivize that they do better,” Brattin said. “I think a lot of these teachers receive a lot of misinformation to think that bills like this are literally the impending doom upon education as we know it.”
Brattin said from the time he started in the House to the time he left that chamber, he says the increase in state funding to education was more than $1 billion.
“Yet all I ever heard was how horrible we were, that we weren’t fully funding, that we weren’t up to par where we should be,” Brattin said.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, agrees.
“Our total budget here in Missouri is $30 billion. We could increase it to $100 billion and spend all that money on education,” said Koenig. “In five years from now, they’ll be crying that there’s not enough money.”
Koenig said traditional public schools do not work for all students.
“It’s not saying that every public school is bad,” said Koenig. “Actually, the opposite. A lot of these public schools are doing a great job. But for that 3%, they might something different – something that’s not offered at a traditional public school.”
During debate, Koenig also blasted several schools he said were underperforming.
Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said she understands being responsive to what she describes as a once-in-a-century pandemic. But she said the Legislature should be careful.
“We are charged with making sure that we do everything we can to support the kids who haven’t had the greatest educational experience in the last year. I think this is an opportunity to reflect on what’s working and to see where there are opportunities for transformation. But that is one piece of a much broader discussion about how we’re going to approach education policy in the state for generations to come. I just don’t want to get too tied up in the fact that as a result of this event, that now we have to change everything in a way that’s just entirely reactionary,” said Arthur.
Bill sponsor, Republican Cindy O’Laughlin of Shelbina, said she agrees.
“I don’t think that we are suggesting that just because of this event, we have to change everything,” she said. “But I do think that this event has kind of exposed the differing levels of commitment and the differing levels of commitment to excellence and to student outcomes.”
O’Laughlin, the Senate Education Committee chair, sang a similar tune as Koenig.
“I just believe that sometimes a certain method works for some people, but it doesn’t work for others,” she said. “I don’t know why we would want to lock people into one thing, recognizing that maybe it just doesn’t work for them.”
Arthur said there are ways to create options without undermining the parts working in the current system.
Another opposing argument raised by the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) is that charter schools should have the same accountability measures as traditional public schools.
Under current law, charter schools are allowed in Kansas City, St. Louis, and any unaccredited Missouri public school district. Charter schools are independent public schools that receive public and private money.
The MSBA also says that taxpayer-funded tax credits should not go to private schools if the schools are not held to the same accountability standards as their traditional public school counterparts.
To view Senate Bill 55, click here.
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