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Special Bulletin #16: House to Vote on Voucher Bill Tomorrow

As we did last week, this week's bulletin will be separated into two parts. The first,and most pressing issue, the SB 493 (vouchers & student transfers) is addressed today and we will discuss SB 509 (tax cuts) later in the week. Please be looking for the latest in your inbox in the coming days as things will begin happening very quickly on both of these critical issues to Missouri public education. 

It is expected that the Missouri House will bring SB 493 up for a vote tomorrow. As you recall, SB 493 is the bill that was intended to address the transfer situation but has quickly become this year’s version of legislature’s annual attack on public education. Last year it was teacher tenure, this year its vouchers, charter school expansion, a power grab for DESE, and state mandated changes to the school calendar.

The version of SB 493 the House will consider this week creates a voucher system that: 1. Holds private schools to significantly less rigorous standards than public schools. 2. Allows private schools to choose which students to accept. 3. Would be effectively limited to students that have the means to pay, in some cases, more than $11,000 in tuition.

To make matters worse, the bill actually makes the transfer situation worse by ensuring that both receiving and sending districts are penalized through transfers. Despite putting a cap on the tuition rate that an unaccredited district would pay to a district that receives students, the version of SB 493 that the House will consider this week continues the policy of bankrupting districts that become classified as unaccredited. This sets up an interesting development where not only the receiving districts would be required to take less than they are spending on their resident students, the sending district would  also have a negative cash flow that will eventually lead to their bankruptcy.

Needless to say, SAC is opposed to SB 493 and we are urging State Representatives to vote NO on the bill when it comes up for a vote tomorrow. Please contact your state representative(s) and urge them to vote NO on SB 493.

  • 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 2037filed 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 the SB 493. SB 493 does contain the review team portion of this concept, but the performance contract provision is not included.
  • The voucher program in SB 493 only helps affluent students transfer to private schools. SB 493 requires an unaccredited district to pay a maximum of the 70% of their tuition rate if a student wants to transfer and is accepted to a non-sectarian private school. A recent article in the Post-Dispatch listed the tuition of three non-sectarian private schools in the St. Louis region. Tuition at Crossroads College Prep School is $19,500. The Forsyth School is $17,400. New City School tops out at $16,800. That means that a student coming from a district with a tuition rate of $12,000 would receive a maximum of $8,400 and would be required to pick up the rest of the tab annually.
  • 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. These 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.
    • All transfer students that transfer to the private school would be required to take MAP tests.
    • Complies with all health and safety laws or codes that apply to other schools.
    • Holds its municipality requires a valid occupancy permit if one.
    • 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 provision is retroactive and would force districts that have received students to send money back to the student’s district of residence. This calculation is estimated that it would still result in a negative cash flow for districts that are currently affected by the transfer law and would still result in the bankruptcy of any district that becomes unaccredited, including those already classified as 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 and are expected to utilize the class size requirements used with in the Missouri School Improvement Plan.
  • SB 493 is more than a transfer bill. Beyond authorizing vouchers, the bill loosens the regulations on charter schools. Under SB 493, charter schools can only be closed by DESE if they are 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 or below the public school district in which the charter school is located.
  • SB 493 authorizes the CEE Trust model laid out to the State Board of Education earlier this year. Additionally, SB 493 requires local taxpayers to pay for this model of school governance 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.
  • 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, special school board meeting in order to approve its school calendar.
  • SB 493 would cause chaos for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year. SB 493 sets up three regional transfer authorities (one in St. Louis, one in Kansas City, and one for the rest of the state) that have members appointed by the Governor. These entities would serve as administrators of student transfers in their region. However, the time frame on setting these entities for the upcoming year would at best be chaotic.