The online hub of the Missouri School Administrators Coalition.

Bulletin #8: All Eyes Turn to House on Transfers, Vouchers

In the opening days of the 2014 Legislative session, Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey (R - St. Charles) said that the student transfer issue was the most important issue the General Assembly would debate all year long. From there, Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce (R - Warrensburg) spent the past two months hearing multiple bills that were filed to address the situation. That work was capped off last week with SB 493 coming to the floor of the Senate. Senators spent a total of twelve hours debating and amending the bill last week and resulted in a bill that passed out by a vote of 27-5.

Unfortunately, in order to get to the final version, multiple issues had to be attached to the transfer bill. SB 493 became a vehicle for nearly every attack of public education that has been pushed by Rex Sinquefield's multiple lobbyists for the last several years. Most notably: open enrollment, private school vouchers, charter school expansion, the creation of statewide virtual charter schools and mandatory retention for students not scoring "proficient" or "advanced" on state assessments. 

We have prepared a summary of the bill here.  

Like the teacher evaluation last year and vouchers the year before, SB 493 is going to be the most important issue the legislature deals with all year long. The bills that have been filed, and especially SB 493 have long reaching impacts on public education throughout Missouri. 

Administrators need to make themselves aware of SB 493 as well as the problems that exist with it. We are encouraging members to begin conversations with the State Representatives regarding this bill immediately. 

SAC is opposed to the current version of SB 493 for the following reasons...

  • SB 493 creates three starkly different accreditation systems for schools in Missouri. Charter schools would be accredited based solely upon a system created by their own sponsor. Private schools would be accredited by an entity known as the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation. Meanwhile, public schools would continue to be accredited utilizing MSIP5.
  • The state will be on the hook to fund a number of provisions of SB 493 that will cost millions while the foundation formula is currently underfunded by more that $600 million in the current fiscal year. The state would be expected to pay for the following...
    • When districts are forced to retain students, it will mean that those students will continue to be counted in the districts weighted average daily attendance for an additional year.
    • SB 493 sets up a "Transfer Fund" that will pay at least 10% of the tuition for students to transfer from one district to another if the district that the student chooses to attend has a higher tuition rate than the district the student resides.
    • SB 493 allows for school districts to extend class time beyond current restrictions for any school building that is "Provisional" and "Unaccredited" and more than 75% of the student body is eligible for free and reduced lunch. A fund is created for the state to reimburse districts that choose to do this.
    • SB 493 requires districts to offer free tutoring services to students when the district becomes "Provisional" or "Unaccredited" that would be paid for out of a state fund. Currently this fund is limited to donations, but would become a place that many legislators will attempt to direct state money through the budget process.
    • SB 493 also creates funds to pay for Regional Education Authorities that will function as a clearinghouse and oversee the transfer process. 
    • Districts will also incur significant costs similar to those that exists with parental notification under No Child Left Behind. SB 493 requires districts to report to parents any time a building or district becomes "Provisional" or "Unaccredited".
  • Either by allowing private schools to cherry pick students or by transferring students out of their communities to other successful schools or districts, SB 493 promotes a system that "hides" students with difficulty learning in the state's accreditation system or in unaccountable private schools. Also, the bill does nothing to address the challenges being faced in school districts with high poverty and instead takes students out of their community schools and destroys already struggling communities. 
  • By basing a district's accreditation on the number of buildings that are either "Accredited" or "Unaccredited", SB 493 penalizes school districts that seek to focus resources on alternative schools, juvenile centers, or other programs dedicated to at-risk students.  
  • With the requirement that "Provisional" and "Unaccredited" districts retain any student in 5th or 8th grade if the student fails to score proficient or advanced on MAP tests, SB 493 creates a system of "high stakes" testing. This provision ensures that once a district is forced to retain students in grade levels that are utilized to determine a district's APR score, the district will never recover. 
  • SB 493 requires tax payers in school districts to subsidize a student to attend another district if the student lives more than seventeen miles away from his or her school and within seven miles of a school in another district. This system of open enrollment was vetoed by Governor Nixon two years ago because of the open enrollment chaos it creates in districts through out the state. As transportation funding has been significantly cut by the state in recent years, local tax payers should not be asked to pick up the tab in the manner laid out in SB 493.

73 Reps Sponsor Bill Seeking Proactive Solution to Struggling Schools

On the same day the Senate passed SB 493, a less publicized bill was filed in the House of Representatives. HB 2037 was filed by Rep. Jeanie Lauer (R - Blue Springs), and received 73 co-sponsors, which offers a complete alternative to student transfers and instead focuses on preventive measures to require the state and district to collaborate to address low performance in struggling school districts.

HB 2037 requires DESE to appoint a team made up of practicing educators to go into districts before a district is given "Provisional" accreditation in order to do a complete analysis of the district. The team would assess the reasons for the low performance as well as highlight the successes occurring within the district. Once the review has occurred, the State Board of Education would then be allowed to classify the district as "Provisionally" accredited.

Utilizing the district analysis, the district would then be required to enter into a performance contract with the State Board of Education to commit to certain interventions for each school building whose annual performance report score is consistent with "Provisionally" accredited or "Unaccredited". The contract would also require the interventions, support, and expertise that DESE would provide to the district. Additionally, the district could be required to engage partners within their community to show support for the school district. In exchange for this performance contract, the district would be granted "Provisional" accreditation for as long as the district met the requirements of the contract.

HB 2037...

  • Seeks to create a more proactive system of dealing with struggling school districts that reflects a shared responsibility between the local school district and the state by laying out the responsibilities and expectations of the local school district AND the state department of education.
  • The bill provides a process where schools can be held accountable to meet performance measures without the threat of the current transfer law bankrupting districts when they are classified as unaccredited.
  • The bill would require action from DESE instead of allowing a district to continue to maintain provisional accreditation for an infinite amount of time by giving broad authority to DESE to implement innovative, proven interventions to support struggling schools and districts. There is no limit on what provisions can be included in these contracts.
  • The review team concept is one that can turn districts around when they begin to struggle. DESE at one time utilized these teams made up of practicing educators with expertise in various areas of education to assess a district’s effectiveness in meeting the needs of students and recommend improvement strategies. The program was cheap and effective. This concept has not been utilized in years and has been replaced by a system of top-down state mandated style of school improvement that is punitive in nature.

SAC fully supports HB 2037. Administrators should urge their State Representatives to pass HB 2037 as an alternative to SB 493!

Bills Removing Bond Sale Options Heard in House, Senate

SB 705 sponsored by Sen. Brad Lager (R - Savannah) and HB 1769 sponsored by Rep. Paul Curtman (R - Pacific) were both heard in their respective committees last week. The bills would remove the ability of school districts to enter into a negotiated sale of general obligation bonds and instead mandate that all districts use competitive sales on the open market. Additionally the bills prohibit a single company from serving both as a financial advisor while also being the entity that buys and sells bonds from a school district. 

These bills, if passed, would take away a cost effective option from school districts and in many instances cost district tax payers millions in increased interest costs throughout the term of a bond. Negotiated sales are frequently used by school districts for multiple financial reasons. Many times negotiated sales are recommended during times of economic uncertainty in the stock market, which has become the norm over the last several years. Also, negotiated sales are utilized by small school districts that cannot market their bonds to outside investors, this lack of demand for these bonds ultimately results in higher interest rates being paid by school districts and their tax payers. Also, schools utilize negotiated sales when the school wishes to ensure that the bonds are sold within the school's community. If these bills were to pass, school districts would be forced to forgo their right to require their bonds be sold to local banks or investors. Opening up these bonds to the open market would allow for banks outside of a community or from outside of Missouri to purchase these bonds. 

For these reasons, SAC opposed SB 705 and HB 1769 in committee and will continue to oppose them if they begin to move further through the legislative process. We were joined in our opposition from the Missouri Bankers Association, the Missouri Independent Bankers Association, the Missouri School Boards Association, and several financial advising companies like L.J. Hart, George K Baum, and Stifel Nicholaus. 

We will continue to watch these bills and alert administrators if either of these bills begin to move.

House Committee Hears Bills to Create Statewide Virtual Charter School, Limit School Calendar

Last week, the Missouri House heard two bills in the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee heard HB 1139 which would move Missouri from requiring a specific number of days and instead move strictly to a required number of hours but would prohibit districts from beginning the school year before a week prior to Labor Day and force schools to end their term no later than the last day in May. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cookson (R - Fairdealing), would also require that MAP tests be given no earlier than May 1st. 

Under other provisions, any student that fails to score "proficient" or "advanced" on state tests would be required to attend summer school. Summer school is required to last at least 144 hours spread out over no more than six weeks and no more than a four day school week. 

For years like the current school year where weather problems have forced schools to frequently close, HB 1139 would force districts to extend their school day significant amounts or force districts to attend school on Saturdays and around popular holidays. Additionally, districts would likely be forced to halt most professional development programs during the school year in order to ensure they meet the calendar requirements in the bill. 

SAC is opposed to this bill because of the local control that is taken away from school districts to set a school calendar that is specific to the needs of their community while forcing school districts.

Also heard in the House Elementary and Secondary Education this week was HB 1823, sponsored by Rep. TJ Berry (R - Kearney). The bill allows for the creation of full-time statewide online charter schools and allows any student, regardless of residence, to enroll at the cost of their local school district. 

SAC opposes HB 1823 and these online charter schools for the following reasons...

  • HB 1823 creates a system where the school is funded based on the performance of students, meaning that students that fall behind in these schools are dumped back into their public school of residence significantly behind academically. Public schools should not be treated as the educational option of last resort for students. 
  • HB 1823 will increase the foundation formula calculation because the first students to take advantage of this open enrollment option are students that are currently homeschooled. These students are not currently calculated in weighted average daily attendance. The projects cost of this could exceed $50 million. 
  • Online charter schools have a proven track record of significantly underperforming public schools. These schools typically have an extremely high drop out rate and correspondingly low graduation rate. In fact, Pennsylvania has stopped approving these schools because of low performance. A recent report in Wisconsin also showed that less than half of their state's online charter school were performing below state standards. 
  • Online charters have a long history of fraud across the country because these schools contract with for-profit companies to deliver the education. The culture that is created by putting profits over a student's education has resulted in many criminal and civil cases across the country. The largest provider of online education recently settled a case where shareholders of the company sued because leaders in the company lied about test scores. While in Philadelphia, the founder of one online charter school was charged with a $6 million fraud scheme.