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Special Bulletin #15: Voucher Bill Put on Fast Track, Urge Your State Rep to Vote NO

The House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education put SB 493 on the fast track this morning. The bill which was originally designed to address the student transfer law, now contains several attacks on public education. Using the student transfer crisis as an opportunity to push a radical agenda is nothing new, this has been the strategy that legislators have used for years. 

During the committee's executive session, several legislators were prohibited from offering amendments that would have cleaned up the bill and resulted in SAC's support for SB493. This action comes on the heals of several weeks of testimony on the transfer issue where at many times less than half of the 23-member committee were actually attending the committee meeting. Prior to the final vote, several committee members expressed objections to the bill, yet voted in favor of it. The bill passed out of the committee 15-8. Opposition to the bill was bi-partisan. 

It is likely that this bill will be debated on the floor of the House next week.

SAC is opposed to the bill for the following reasons. Administrators are urged to contact your State Representatives and urge them to oppose SB 493 when it comes up for a vote on the floor of the Missouri House. 

  • SB 493 does nothing to improve the educational outcomes in struggling school districts and communities. Instead, the bill focuses on moving students out of their communities and hiding them in districts with higher socioeconomic demographics or in unaccountable private and charter schools.
  • SB 493 does nothing to require earlier engagement from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in struggling schools. This was the intention of HB 2037 filed by Rep. Jeanie Lauer (R – Blue Springs). The bill, which required the review team’s finding to be turned into a performance contract for the district and DESE to work towards implementing, received seventy-three co-sponsors but leaders in the House of Representatives have refused to allow this language to be included in SB 493. The bill does contain the review team portion of this concept, but the performance contract provision is not included.
  • The House version of SB 493 authorizes vouchers for students in unaccredited districts to transfer to any nonsectarian private school at the cost to the districts local taxpayers. Under the bill, these private schools are not held to the same standards (like MSIP) as public schools and are not required to take all students. Instead the bill only requires the following accountability for private schools that accept students…
    • Is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, which accredits schools solely on Resource and Process Standards.
    • Requires only students that transfer to a private school to take MAP tests.
    • Complies with all health and safety laws or codes that apply to other schools.
    • Holds a valid occupancy permit if one is required by the local municipality
    • Certifies that it will not discriminate on admissions on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or disability.
  • The voucher provision in SB 493 is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. SB 493 requires unaccredited school districts to pay tuition from their local operating levy for students to attend to private schools. Despite taxpayers authorizing these taxes for their local public school, SB 493 mandates that the district send these funds outside of their district. The Missouri Association of School Administrators recently received a legal opinion on this bill that found this provision to be “unconstitutional”.

  • The bill mandates that a public school district will be paid 70% of the sending district’s tuition rate for each student that transfers from an unaccredited district to an accredited district. This calculation is estimated to result in a negative cash flow for districts that are currently affected by the transfer law and would still result in the bankruptcy of a district that becomes unaccredited.

  • Districts that receive transfer students are not allowed to assume future growth of their student population when calculating the number of available seats in the district. While the bill allows for districts to set their own class size limitations for calculating the number of open seats, DESE has the final say on the district’s policy.

  • SB 493 is more than a transfer bill. Beyond authorizing vouchers, the bill loosens the regulations on charter schools by restricting DESE ability to close a charter school only if the school is not meeting the goals laid out by the sponsor of the school. Some charter schools perform well while many fail to meet the levels of their local public schools, DESE would be prohibited in closing charters if they are underperforming on state standards.
  • SB 493 adopts the CEE Trust model laid out to the State Board of Education earlier this year and requires local taxpayers to foot the bill despite losing all control over their local district. This model would replace the locally elected board with a state appointed CEO. This provision removes local control in favor a state bureaucrat to run a school district. It is also expected that this state appointed CEO would have taxing authority. 
  • SB 493 prohibits school districts from being in session more than four days per week during the months of June, July and August. The bill also requires that if a school district wants to start school more than ten days prior to Labor Day, the district is required to have a special school board meeting in order to approve its school calendar.