In a speech that many Democrats and educators had wanted to hear for over 5 years, Governor Jay Nixon came out swinging last week in his annual State of the State address to a Joint Session of the General Assembly. Nixon, who has frequently been one to avoid directly engaging the conservative, Republican dominated Missouri Legislature, laid out his goals for the coming session and did not parse any words when it came to the subject of public education.
Citing the economic recession and the tough fiscal decisions the state has had to make over the past five years, Nixon called the 2014 legislative session a "defining moment". After announcing an increase of $278 million into Missouri classrooms and pointing out that politicians continually highlight that they support public education when running for office, Nixon tasked the General Assembly with "putting their budgets where their campaign brochures are".
Nixon, who has made a commitment to fully fund the school foundation formula by the end of his term as governor, would be on pace to fund the formula in just two years. For more information on Governor Jay Nixon's State of the State address and his corresponding budget request, please refer to the Front Line Blog post that was posted last week.
It did not take long for Republican leadership to begin downplaying the possibility of increased funding for education. Calling it a massive expansion of government, Speaker of the House Tim Jones (R - Eureka) responded in a pre-recorded address and promoted an agenda that calls for more tax cuts (like the one we saw last summer with HB 253) than funding for education. The Republican position was not unexpected and was addressed by Gov. Nixon in his address. Nixon made it very clear to lawmakers that he would veto any tax cut legislation that had the effect of taking money out of public education.
While the Legislature begins its work on the 2015 budget, superintendents, other central office staff, and building principals will play a critical role in the outcome of this important debate. Your school district should approach this funding increase no different than you would a local ballot issue. How can you utilize this funding to improve the education of your community's students?
You can find a simulation of how your district would benefit from the Governor's proposed formula increase by clicking here. Principals are encouraged to discuss what these increases would mean at the building level with your district's leadership.
District leaders, building leaders and board members are encouraged to gather input from students, teachers, parents, and community and put together a very specific spending plan. Also, it is encourage that you share those plans with your community, your local media, your professional organizations, and your legislators.
If you can, take time out of your busy schedules this week, please consider contacting the Governor's office and thanking Gov. Nixon for his ambitious 2015 budget and support for public education. You can contact his office at the following.
St. Louis Senators' Transfer Bills Heard in Senate Committee
The Senate Education Committee heard five identical bills relating to the student transfer law last week and will hear all other bills on the subject in the coming weeks. The five bills, sponsored by a group of St. Louis area Senators that represent schools districts that receive transfer students, seeks to set parameters that districts can establish to control the number of students that can transfer into a receiving school district.
The bills are sponsored by Sen. Scott Sifton, Sen. Gina Walsh, Sen. Eric Schmitt, Sen. John Lamping, and Sen. Scott Rupp and all contain identical language. The bill numbers are SB 495, SB 534, SB 485, SB 595, and SB 545.
All administrators need to be aware of this issue, but particularly these bills, as provisions throughout the bills affect every school district in the state on Missouri.
First, the bill contains language relating to transportation hardships that would grant an automatic transfer to a student that resides more than seventeen miles away from his or her local school and seven miles closer to a school in a neighboring school district. The bill would have the practical effect of creating an open enrollment like scenario for districts all across the state. The language would circumvent the current transportation hardship law that allows a student to transfer if students are forced to be on the bus for more than seventy-five minutes or has a natural barrier between the student's home and his or her school. The taxpayers in the district of resident would be forced to pay the tuition costs for the students that are allowed to transfer under this law.
You may remember this issue from two years ago when a bill was passed specific to three school districts around the state. That bill was vetoed by the Governor.
Also, the bills filed by this group of Senators does not do anything to change the current situation in an unaccredited district. Under their proposal, when a district is declared unaccredited by the state, the unaccredited district would be forced to pay full tuition and transportation costs to the districts that the students from their district choose to attend. This process will continue to bankrupt school districts very quickly as we are seeing in the St. Louis area, meaning that districts would likely be in a position to become insolvent in the middle of a school year. We are seeing this with Normandy right now and will likely see it with other unaccredited districts in the future.
Currently, DESE has requested $5 million from the state legislature to ensure that Normandy stays solvent until the end of the school year. Commissioner Nicastro has also publicly indicated that if a district does become insolvent in the middle of a year, DESE would transfer those students to other districts for the remainder of the year and funding could likely come out of the state's foundation formula. Districts going bankrupt in the middle of a school year will likely lead to additional appropriation requests from any districts that become unaccredited in the future.
This situation highlights the inherent problems with the whole concept of transfers and further's the argument to adopt the plan that the Missouri Association of School Administrators came up with in November which calls for an end to transfers and instead focuses on supports and interventions when a district begins to struggle. That plan calls for a district to lapse when reform fails to help increase performance in a struggling school district. That plan would prevent any future budget requests for additional tax dollars and be a much cleaner way to deal with the issue than the current situation that leads to chaos, financial stress, and the disintegration of communities and their schools. The State Board of Education and DESE can immediately adopt the MASA plan without any need for legislation.
The Senate Education Committee will continue to hear the bills that attempt to address this subject and hear SB 493 sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R - Warrensburg) this coming Wednesday at 3pm in the Senate Lounge.
Senate to Debate Massive Tax Cut This Week
The Missouri Senate will begin its work to lower Missouri's income tax this week as they will debate SB 509 sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus (R - Lee's Summit) this week on the Senate floor. The bill is similar to HB 253 from last year but does not include the provision that assessed a sales tax on internet purchases. This has the effect of making SB 509 significantly more expensive than last year's bill.
SAC is opposed to this bill and stands behind Governor Jay Nixon's view that any bill that significantly threatens to take tax dollars out of public education, as SB 509 does, should be defeated either by the Legislature or by a veto.
There are expected to be many bills attempting to cut taxes in the coming session and administrators should continue to monitor them as they come up through out session.
Posted on Mon, February 3, 2014