Last week, the House of Representatives took the first step in responding to Governor Jay Nixon's ambitious 2015 budget by filing budget bills that were identical to the 2014 budget that was passed last year. Two weeks ago, Governor Nixon laid out his recommendations for the 2015 budget in his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly. Nixon's budget called for a $489 million increase in overall education funding for early childhood through post secondary, including $278 million dedicated to funding the state's foundation formula.
Budget Chairman Rick Stream (R - Kirkwood) has given each of the chairmen of the various appropriations subcommittees the amount by which they may increase last year's budget. For K-12 and Higher Education that number is $317 million, about one third less that the Governor's recommendations. It is unclear at this time where these increases will be distributed. The House Appropriations Committee on Education will begin the work of crafting their budget plan this week.
If you recall, this year was the first year that the Legislature, the General Assembly and the University of Missouri were unable to agree on a Consensus Revenue Estimate (CRE). This number is used by budget writers to ensure that Missouri adopts a balanced budget for the upcoming year. This year, the Governor based his recommendations on a significant increase in the amount of additional state revenues Missouri would see in fiscal year 2015 while the General Assembly is basing their budget on a significantly smaller number.
For more information, check out this news story.
NEW STATE BOARD MEMBERS CONFIRMED BY SENATE
The Missouri State Board of Education is getting three new members after the Missouri Senate confirmed Governor Jay Nixon's appointments last week. The three members, Joe Driskell (D - Jefferson City), Dr. John Martin (D - Kansas City), and Vic Lenz (R - St. Louis) were finally confirm last Thursday after the vote on their nominations were postponed last week. The three candidates faced significant questioning from members of the Missouri Senate. Many Senators expressed dismay over many of the decisions that have been made by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over the last few months and the perceived lack of oversight from the State Board. Senators cited decisions relating to Common Core implementation, competitive bidding practices, cost analysis of bills and initiative petitions, and the distribution of formula appropriations.
In the end, the candidates eased the concerns of the Senate and were confirmed. They now may officially begin serving their terms. It is an important time for these new members to begin, as the State Board begins their work today on addressing the school transfer issue that is wreaking havoc on the St. Louis area and has the potential to do the same in Kansas City.
The move now fills all but one vacancy on the board, the position from Southeast Missouri that was held by Mike Ponder of Cape Girardeau. Mr. Ponder resigned his seat on the State Board of Education last year in order to accept a nomination to the University of Missouri Board of Curators. Ponder's nomination to that position was blocked last week by a group of Missouri Senators because of concerns of his role and a perceived lack of oversight of DESE while he sat on the State Board of Education.
HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE HEARS BONDING RESOLUTION, OTHER BILLS
HJR 42 was heard last week by the Education Committee in the House of Representatives. The resolution would allow voters in the 2014 November election to approve the ability of school districts to increase their bonding capacity from 15% to 25%. Once approved by voters, each district would be allowed to put two questions to a vote of their tax payers to allow the district to go over the current 15% cap AND also set the new cap amount. The authorization would require a simple majority vote but the increase approval would stay consistent with the current requirement of 2/3 or 4/7 majority depending on the election the district chooses to utilize.
The current limitations have caused major issues for several school districts in the state, many of which that are growing quickly. The current limitations force many districts to utilize more expensive lease-purchase bonds, also known as revenue bonds, to purchase new facilities to house their growing student populations.
SAC supports HJR 42.
Unfortunately, some members of the committee brought up issues with the current structure of bond sales and their philosophy that all bond sales must be competitively bid. Committee members cited a recent state audit highlighting this belief. Witnesses in favor of HJR 42 cited the implications of a solely competitive bid process. Districts typically can negotiate a more favorable bond sale with bond companies than is available on the open market. Additionally, negotiated bond sales can help ensure that local investors to invest in their school districts rather than sell them to out of area businesses. SAC opposes the mandate that all bond sales be competitively bid.
The committee also heard two other bills Wednesday.
HB 1250 sponsored by Rep. David Wood (R - Versailles) seeks to address concerns with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's implementation of Common Core by requiring that DESE be forced to utilize test companies from Missouri if these companies would cost less than what is available from outside of the state and prohibiting the collection of any additional student data than what is being collected this year. A full summary of HB 1250 can be found here.
HB 1162 sponsored by Rep. Chrissy Sommer (R - St. Charles) would require school districts to give physical education credit for participation in several organized athletic activities.
SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE CONTINUES WORK ON SCHOOL TRASNFERS
Senator David Pearce's (R - Warrenburg) Education Committee took up two more bills last week that seek to address the school transfer issue.
SB 624 sponsored by Sen. Paul LeVota (D - Independence) seeks to allow school districts that must accept students that transfer from "unaccredited" districts to set reasonable class size parameters that would prohibit the district from hiring more teachers or constructing additional classroom space. The bill also prohibits the State Board of Education from changing a district's accreditation level if there is a vacancy on the state board that represents the school district.
SAC supports SB 624.
SB 516 sponsored by Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D - University City) was also heard. The bill seeks to make several changes to not only the transfer system but also to how the state handles schools and districts that begin to struggle with meeting MSIP requirements.
The largest highlight of SB 516 is that it would expand the option to transfer another school district to any student that attends an unaccredited school building regardless of their overall school district accreditation level. Students eligible to transfer under SB 516 would be allowed to transfer to any public school in their county of residence or a surrounding county. Also, students would have the option of transferring to a non-secular private school. Districts would be forced to pay no more than their current per pupil expenditure to the district that students choose to attend. The bill places a further cap on transfer tuitions in the St. Louis area to $7,200 that students currently bring with them under the Voluntary Inter-District Choice Program. If a student were to choose to attend a private school, their district of residence would be required to pay an amount equal to the per pupil amount of the local effort being spent on instruction in the district.
The other significant changes made under SB 516 can be found here.
SAC opposes SB 516.
Posted on Mon, February 17, 2014