The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) says it has been asking for millions to help improve academically struggling K-12 school districts. That funding has come up short over the years.
During a Missouri Board of Education meeting, State Education Commissioner, Dr. Margie Vandeven, said the department has been requesting about $6 million for roughly the past decade.
“We have requested consistently additional funding for improvement efforts to support a district or a school when it has been unaccredited or provisionally accredited. And we are not receiving those funds at this point in time,” she said. “That has been probably about a decade in the making that we are working on trying to get some appropriation to better support schools.”
“That $6 million request has been in the budget for years and cleverly taken out for years,” said Board member Peter Herschend of Branson.
What this means is some underperforming schools are getting help to improve student performance and some are not.
Districts identified as Provisionally Accredited due to student performance would primarily be the schools eligible for additional intervention/improvement dollars if additional funds were appropriated. Those districts are: Hayti R-II, Hickman Mills, Normandy Schools Collaborative, and Riverview Gardens.
There are state lawmakers who support school choice and are sometimes quick to say some traditional K-12 schools are failing. These discussions might be in the midst of a budget bill, a charter school funding bill or legislation about school vouchers, for example.
Some will tout the Legislature fully funding the formula to bankroll public education. What they often do not mention is the efforts to help these struggling schools get back on track are not being fully funded.
According to the department, it asked for $7 million in fiscal year 2018. The governor and Legislature did not fund that line item.
In fiscal year 2019, the agency said it did not request funding for this effort.
DESE asked for $5.5 million the following fiscal year. The governor and Legislature did not fund that line item.
The fiscal year 2021 budget included a department request of $380,000 for a program called Continuous Improvement to help individual school buildings. Another $3.5 million was requested for the School Turnaround Act to help at the district level. Gov. Mike Parson and the Legislature did not fund either line item.
In the current fiscal year’s budget, the agency asked for $1.36 million for Continuous Improvement; no department request was made for the School Turnaround Act. The Legislature designated $3.25 million. After Gov. Mike Parson vetoed one line item, $975,000 was left to fund school improvement tools.
For fiscal year 2023, the department requested $860,000 for Continuous Improvement and $975,000 in School Turnaround Act funds. The governor’s request only included $975,000 in School Turnaround Act funds.
The Legislature is still working on the fiscal year 2023 budget. Missouri has billions sitting in the bank and lawmakers are deciding where they want the money to go.
Board President Charlie Shields, of northwest Missouri’s St. Joseph, said the board and department will keep asking for the money, but as lawmakers come and go, so will other school improvement funding ideas.
“The only hope to continue the process is the vendor will lobby to keep the money in there and that could happen,” he said.
According to DESE, there are no statutory requirements to fund school improvement efforts in provisionally accredited or unaccredited districts. However, because provisionally accredited or unaccredited districts often contain low performing schools, the department says it leverages resources to the maximum extent possible to benefit students in those schools.
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