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Open Enrollment Bills Continue to Advance in Legislature

The House and Senate bills relating to open enrollment were both voted out of committee this week. In the Senate, SB5 (Koenig) was placed on the Senate Calendar and could come up for debate soon. HB253 (Pollitt) could soon be placed on the House Calendar for consideration.   

The bills would allow students enrolled in a public school to attend a nonresident public school district participating in the open enrollment program. HB253 (Pollitt) and SB5 (Koenig) are very similar, with the largest difference being that SB5 would allow charter schools to participate in open enrollment while HB253 does not.

Districts must declare participation in the open enrollment program by December 1 for the following school year. While accepting transfer students would be optional, they may not prevent students from leaving the resident district. Each school district is required to adopt a model policy for open enrollment from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education or an entity skilled in policy development, even if the district is not going to participate, creating state intrusion and increased bureaucracy. 

Students who participate in open enrollment in high school may not participate in varsity sports during the first 365 days of enrollment in a nonresident district, with some exceptions. This program would begin in the 2024-25 school year. For school years 2024-25 through 2027-28, districts may restrict the number of transferring students to 4% of the previous school year's enrollment. In the following years, no limits on transfers will be in place.
As for students participating in the program, parents will be responsible for transportation to the nonresident school or to an existing bus stop location in the nonresident district. Students qualifying for free and reduced meals may have transportation expenses reimbursed quarterly.

The legislation allows districts to receive funding from the creation of a new $80 million Parent Public School Choice Fund for special education services (up to three times the current expenditure per average daily attendance) and for transportation costs for students that qualify for free and reduced meals. The House bill was amended to allow that if the newly created Parent Public School Choice Fund is not funded, then that money would come from the Foundation Formula and the K-12 transportation reimbursement, further impacting all districts to pay for services that are already being provided by school districts.

MSTA opposes these bills based on MSTA Adopted Resolutions, with the following concerns:   

School Consolidation: Open enrollment will lead to school consolidation. This legislation could leave districts unable to support all students in the community. Students remaining in community schools that have been consolidated will be forced to endure longer bus rides, while districts that remain open will struggle to maintain the educational programs already offered such as FFA, choir, band and athletics. In many Missouri communities, these kinds of tough decisions have already been made due to a lack of funding and increased difficulty in recruiting and retaining education staff.  

Special Education: This legislation allows districts to deny students based on special education status if the transfer district determines they cannot meet the special education student’s needs, allowing districts to discriminate against special needs students.   

Financial Implications/Anti-Collaboration: Open enrollment will pit schools against one another to compete for students and the funding associated with them. Funding that would normally go toward student learning would be spent on recruiting students and competing with neighboring districts. This creates competition for the sake of competition; districts that are not in the same situation are forced to devote time and treasure to recruiting students while still attempting to provide a quality education to all the students that remain in the district.   

Increased State Influence: It will be mandated that schools adopt a model policy developed by DESE or “another entity skilled in policy development” to determine the number of transfers available. This policy must be adopted by schools even if they decide not to participate in the open enrollment program.   

Expands Charter Schools: SB5 would expand the open enrollment program into charter schools. This expansion does not address MSTA’s belief that charter schools should be granted only by the locally-elected school board.


Parent Bill of Rights Legislation Debated by Full Senate

On Wednesday, the Senate brought up and debated SB4, 42, and 89 (Koenig) which would ban certain curriculum, create a massive database controlled by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education of local district curriculum and professional development activities, and create a “Parents Bill of Rights.” 
SB4 would require each local school board and charter school to approve and adopt curriculum at least two months prior to implementation. Each school board and charter school governing board is required to adopt policies to ensure that the approved and adopted curricula are properly implemented in the classroom. School accountability report cards for the past five years must be posted on the district's or charter school's website and must be available for inspection at each individual attendance center of a school district or charter school.
The Commissioner of Education is required to establish the Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal to provide citizens with access to every school district's curriculum, textbooks, source materials and syllabi. The portal is required to include the cost associated with speakers and guests used by a school in their professional development activities. It must also include names of presenters and distributed materials from all administrator, teacher and staff professional development and instructional programs offered to public schools. Information related to curriculum materials and staff professional development programs must be submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education monthly and posted on the Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal within seven calendar days of the Department's receipt of the information. 
Any school that knowingly violates provisions relating to the Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal shall be subject to a penalty of up to $25,000, unless the school proves to the satisfaction of DESE that it is no longer in violation.
No school or school employee shall compel teachers to teach, or a student or teacher to personally adopt, adhere to, or profess a position or viewpoint a reasonable person would conclude violates certain public policy including but not limited to: that individuals of any race, ethnicity, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior and that individuals, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others. Courses on critical race theory or units of study on critical race theory within a course shall not be offered by any public elementary or secondary school or by any preschool, early childhood education program, or pre-kindergarten program offered by a public school district or charter school. The language of the bill shall not be construed to prohibit constitutionally protected speech, access to research or study materials, or the discussion or assignment of materials for educational purposes.
If a parent learns that a teacher is in violation of the bill, and the teacher is acting independently, then the parent may file a complaint with DESE, which is required to send the complaint to the State Board of Education and notify the local school district. The Board must hold a hearing between the parent and the school district within 30 days of receiving the complaint. Upon a determination by the Board that a violation is occurring, the district will be required to deposit an amount equal to the state adequacy target amount ($6,375) for the student into an education savings account. 
If a parent learns that a teacher is in violation of the bill, and the violation is occurring throughout the school district, the parent may file a complaint with DESE which will send the complaint to the State Board of Education and notify the school district. The Board shall hold a contested case hearing between the parent and the school district within 30 days of receiving such complaint. Upon a determination by the Board that a violation is occurring for the first offense, 5 percent of the state aid to the school will be withheld until the district is no longer in violation, for a second offense 10 percent will be withheld, and for a third occurrence the district will be declared unaccredited. The school will also be subject to a civil penalty of five hundred dollars per occurrence. 
Educators are working with parents every day across the state. Under this legislation, Missouri educators will be required to spend time performing bureaucratic functions filling a massive state database and defending their course materials instead of using that time for course preparation, tutoring, or other student enrichment activities. 
After lengthy debate, the bill was not voted on and was placed back on the Senate calendar where it could come up for debate again.


Local Control Bill Presented in Senate Committee

SB85 (Carter) was presented in the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee. The bill would create local control school districts that would be exempt from certain performance reporting requirements of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Any public school district that receives local funding through personal property taxes, real estate taxes and Proposition C revenues from the school district trust fund that equals at least 75% of its funding under the foundation formula would be designated as a local control school district.
A local control school district would not be required to participate in the Missouri School Improvement Program, the annual performance reviews conducted by the Department, or the maintaining of a school improvement plan. A local control school district would have the ability to choose any nationally recognized assessment test program in lieu of the Missouri Assessment Program. MSTA Adopted Resolutions support local control of public education by the district board of education and the autonomy of the local school district to adopt curriculum, assessments and programs to meet educational goals. 

House Education Committee Hears Differentiated Pay Bill

MSTA testified in opposition to HB190 (E. Lewis) in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. The plain language of the bill would remove the requirement that salary schedules adopted by a district's board of education apply to all teachers in the district. The bill would further allow school boards to include differentiated placement of teachers on the salary schedule for hard-to-staff subject areas and hard-to-staff schools determined by the local school board. Districts would then have the ability to annually review and modify the list of hard-to-staff subject areas and schools. Without additional resources, the elimination of salary schedules and differential pay allowances fail to address the overall salary issues that exist in school districts that contribute to problems with recruiting and retaining staff. A survey conducted by the State Board of Education’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission showed differentiated pay or pay for performance implementation would cause 48.7% of teachers to leave their position. 


Retirement Bill Has Senate Hearing

The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Pensions Committee heard SB75 (Black), which would make several positive changes to the PSRS/PEERS system. 

SB75 has three different sections that relate to teacher retirement in Missouri and would provide benefits to both educators and students. The bill would bring back the 2.55% multiplier for PSRS members with 32 or more years of service. This provision would allow veteran teachers to decide if they wanted to continue to teach and receive an increased retirement benefit. According to PSRS/PEERS actuaries, this change would generate a positive financial impact to the retirement system. 

Currently, PSRS retirees can be employed in a PEERS covered position and may earn up to 60% of the minimum teacher's salary. The bill would allow PSRS retirees working in PEERS covered positions to earn up to the annual earnings limit applicable to a Social Security recipient before the calendar year of attainment of full retirement age under federal regulations. 

 Current law provides that a retired teacher or a retired noncertificated employee who is receiving a retirement benefit from PSRS to work full-time for up to two years for a PSRS-covered school district if there is a shortage of certified teachers or noncertificated employees. The bill would allow retirees to work full-time for up to four years under the critical shortage provision.

MSTA testified in support of the bill and appreciates Sen. Black’s efforts to maintain a strong teacher retirement system in Missouri. MSTA’s support of the bill is based on MSTA Adopted Resolutions. MSTA supports reinstating of the 2.55 factor for the 31 or more years of service, if actuarially sound.