The coronavirus pandemic’s increased challenges in education have fueled the Missouri Legislature’s efforts this session to make school choice measures a priority. Debate about these bills have been very heated at times.
On Tuesday, the Missouri Senate Education Committee and representatives of the state’s K-12 public education world instead had a heart-to-heart about ways to address academic achievement levels within public schools. Their discussion centered around a legislative bill that could close some underperforming K-12 public schools in Missouri.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, involves any public school performing within the bottom five percent of schools for more than three years over a five-year period. Districts would be required to close these schools and transfer students to a higher-performing one within the district; create a partnership to open an in-district charter school; or reimburse a district or charter school for taking in the transfer students.
Additionally, any district with more than two schools falling into the bottom five percent for more than two years would be classified as provisionally accredited.
O’Laughlin wants to require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to publish online each year a list of Missouri schools performing within the bottom five percent of schools for more than three years and designate them as a “persistently failing school”.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said there will always be a school and a district in the bottom five percent:
Eric Scroggins with St. Louis-based Opportunity Trust, a nonprofit organization funding charter schools, spoke in support of the plan:
Ron Berry, a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers, cited the towns of Lesterville, Calhoun, and Windsor. He said the communities have many low-income individuals with a revolving door of students moving in and out of those districts:
O’Laughlin, the committee chair, asked Berry for suggestions:
Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, agreed with Berry. He recommended adding another step in the process to help prevent schools from closing:
Scott Kimble, with the Missouri Association of School Administrators, spoke in opposition to the bill:
Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said some districts are not investing their funding where they should:
Steve Carroll, lobbying for Kansas City area schools and St. Louis Public Schools, said he does not think the bill addresses the heart of the problem:
Razer agreed with Carroll:
Schupp said boosting teacher pay is not for its own sake:
Tammy Henderson with the North Kansas City School District said the district has 21,000 students with about fifty percent of them getting free or reduced-price meals. She shared some solutions that have worked in her district:
O’Laughlin and Schupp agreed the group should put their heads together:
O’Laughlin told Kimble the tone of the conversation needs to change:
The committee has not voted on Senate Bill 133.
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