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Voucher bill heard, voted out of Senate Education Committee

HB349 (Christofanelli) was heard in the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, and was voted out of committee during a special committee meeting Thursday morning. The bill has not yet been placed on the Senate calendar where it could then come up for debate. HB349 would allow any taxpayer who contributes to the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program to claim a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the total contribution to fund a new voucher program in Missouri.  Under the bill, the voucher program would begin at $50 million in the first year and could ultimately expand to $75 million each year. The legislation would allow new non-profit organizations called Education Assistance Organizations to oversee the distribution of public funds.

For students to qualify, they must be a resident in a county with a charter form of government, or any city with a population of at least 30,000 and either have an individualized education plan or come from a household whose total income does not exceed 200 percent of the income standard used to qualify for free and reduced prices lunches. The student must also have attended a public school for at least one semester during the previous year or is eligible to begin kindergarten or first grade.  

HB349 contains a trigger that would not allow the program to begin until funding for public school transportation equals or exceeds 40 percent of the required 75 percent necessary to fully fund student transportation costs. This would require approximately an $18 million increase in the appropriated amount of money for a transportation budget that is currently underfunded by over $200 million. The legislation only requires that the legislature provide the appropriation, there is no guarantee that the funding will actually be available and would still allow the program to begin if the transportation funding was restricted by the governor as has happened in past years. Districts would be permitted to maintain their funding if they could prove that they lost students due to the program. That funding would only be available for the first five years of the voucher program.

HB349 creates a program like what is proposed in SB55 (O’Laughlin) and that has stalled in the Senate but could still come up for debate. MSTA remains opposed to SB55.   

Based on the MSTA Adopted Resolutions, MSTA testified in opposition to HB349 and continues to oppose new voucher programs that allow public dollars to be spent on private education. Missouri students, parents and taxpayers demand accountability and local control of the tax dollars that are spent in public education. HB349 would allow taxpayer monies to go to private institutions that have no oversight from Missouri citizens or elected officials.

Senate Education Committee passes bill mandating structured literacy programs

SB54 (O’Laughlin) modifies the current law regarding literacy and reading education, including provisions related to reading success plans, formerly known as reading intervention plans. The bill would take away local control of literacy education and require structured literacy programs for any struggling readers and mandate the use of curriculum and materials approved by an advisory council appointed by the Commissioner of Education.  

Reading has always been key to the fabric of MSTA. Since 1885 the MSTA Reading Circle program has encouraged children to discover the wonders of reading and to earn the Reading Circle certificate. While the goals of SB54 are important, language in the bill would create a one-size-fits-all approach to reading instruction and intervention systems that would take away local control of reading instruction by mandating programs, assessments, and curriculum, that would not allow professional educators to use all available resources to meet individual student’s needs.  

Under the bill, the State Board of Education would require literacy and reading coursework for higher education teacher preparation programs. The coursework must include the core components of reading, oral and written language development, identification of reading deficiencies and language difficulties, the administration of assessments, and the application of assessment data to the classroom. The State Board of Education, in collaboration with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the Literacy Advisory Council, must develop a plan to establish a comprehensive system of services for reading instruction.  

Each local school district and charter school must have on file a policy for reading success plans for any pupils in grades kindergarten through four. Each policy must be aligned with the guidelines developed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for reading success plans. Any guidelines for instruction shall meet the needs of the student by ensuring that instruction is explicit and systematic and diagnostic and aligns with structured literacy. Each school must provide supplemental reading instruction under a reading success plan to any student who exhibits a reading deficiency. Each school district and charter school is required to provide training on the administration of reading assessments to all K-5 teachers and any other personnel who provide literacy instruction.

If a student who is provided a reading success plan is determined to not be reading at or above grade level by the end of second grade, the student must receive structured literacy instruction as well as additional support and services. For students in grades 6-12, schools must continue to address the reading deficiencies of any student for whom the deficiency creates a barrier to success in school.

A reading success plan must be created no later than 45 days after the identification of a reading deficiency. Such plan shall be created by the teacher and other pertinent school personnel, along with the parent or legal guardian, and shall describe the evidence-based reading improvement services the student shall receive. The reading success plan shall specify if a student was found to be at risk for dyslexia in the statewide dyslexia screening requirement or if the student has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia.

Each student for whom a reading success plan has been designed shall be given another reading assessment to be administered within 45 days of the end of the student’s fourth-grade year. If such student is determined to be reading below third-grade level, the student is to be referred for an evaluation for an IEP plan and the district must provide appropriate intensive structured literacy instruction on an individualized basis. If the student does not qualify for an IEP, the student will continue to receive appropriate, intensive structured literacy instruction on an individualized basis until the student is reading at grade level.

Each school district and charter school is required to offer summer school reading instruction to any student with a reading success plan. Districts may fulfill the requirement through cooperative arrangements with neighboring districts. The parent or legal guardian of any K-5 student who exhibits a deficiency in reading must be notified.

The bill creates the Literacy Advisory Council within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The council would include 15-20 members appointed by the Commissioner of Education. The advisory council would meet biannually to review best practices in literacy instruction and related policies, and make recommendations to the Commissioner and the State Board of Education.

DESE, in conjunction with the Advisory Council would create a list of approved materials, resources, and curriculum programs for public school districts and charter schools. The only materials, resources, or curriculum programs that a district or charter school could use would be required to come from the DESE approved list dictated by the advisory council.

Budget gets House Committee approval

The state budget is moving though the legislative process. This week the budget was approved by the House Appropriations Committee. The next step in the budget process is for the budget to be debated by the full House.

Most of the budget remained unchanged. A couple of provisions were added in the House Committee Substitute. $2 million was added for an organization in the city of St. Louis that is focused on improving public schools by investing in strategic planning, data analysis, teacher and leadership development, and school and district redesign. This money will most likely go to The Opportunity Trust, an out-of-state organization that is meddling in the operation of the St. Louis Public Schools as well as the Normandy School District. The operations of the Opportunity Trust undermine public education and works toward the privatization of schools.  

The budget also includes $5 million for deferred maintenance for specific charter schools. It is believed that the money would go to Kipp Charter schools. Changes could be made in the language to open this up to all charter schools.

The committee also added $2.5 million for a Reading Literacy Program for St. Louis. Language was added to the bill would reduce federal funds available under the Cares Act if a district did not have in-person learning for 45 percent of the time. Schools that did not meet this threshold would see their available federal funds reduced by 10 percent.

Specific budget items that remained unchanged include:

  • $8.5 million to fully fund the school foundation formula
  • $1 million for School Innovative Waiver Program to improve student readiness and teacher recruitment and development.
  • $8.4 million for Early Childhood Special Education
  • $4.3 million in federal funds to implement a comprehensive literacy program
  • $2 million for Early Childhood Development, Education and Care Fund for parent education and developmental screenings
  • $1.36 million to begin a phased approach to enhance school improvement efforts

House Pensions Committee hears PSRS bill

This week the House Pensions Committee heard a bill supported by MSTA that would make a benefit improvement to the Public School Retirement System. HB828 (Dinkins) would allow a retiree who works 31 or more years to receive a 2.55 factor when calculating their retirement benefit. This benefit was in law for PSRS members but expired in 2014. 

This would save the retirement system money and give more options to teachers who want to remain in the classroom and work more than 30 years. A similar provision was added to HB811 (R. Black) that has been approved by the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. The amendment added to this bill would allow the 2.55 factor for working 32 or more years. HB811 would also change the amount of earnings that a retiree of Public School Retirement System (PSRS) could make when working in a Public Education Employee Retirement System (PEERS) position. Currently, any teacher retired from the PSRS can be employed in a position covered under the PEERS without stopping their retirement benefit. Such teacher may earn up to 60 percent of the minimum teacher’s salary as set forth by law and will not contribute to the retirement system or earn creditable service. This bill will allow such teacher to earn up to the annual earnings limit applicable to a Social Security recipient which is currently $18,960.

Two provisions were added when the bill was debated on the House floor. Language from HB812 (R. Black) was added to the bill. This provision would expand the critical shortage statute that allows a retired teacher who is receiving a retirement benefit from PSRS or PEERS to work up to four years without losing their retirement benefit. Currently someone could only work for up to two years under the critical shortage provision.

Bill Summaries


Emerging Issues
HB314 (A.Kelley) authorizes a tax deduction of 100 percent of unreimbursed educator expenses incurred by an eligible educator, not to exceed $500. An eligible educator is defined as an individual who is a K-12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide in a school for at least 900 hours during a school year. Educator expenses are expenses incurred as a result of the participation by the educator in professional development courses related to the curriculum in which the educator provides instruction, and expenses in connection with books, supplies, computer equipment and other equipment, and supplementary materials used by the eligible educator in the classroom. MSTA testified in support.

HB828 (Dinkins)
reinstates the provision allowing members of the Public School Retirement System of Missouri who have 31 or more years of creditable service to have their retirement allowance calculated using a multiplier of 2.55 percent. MSTA testified in support.

Elementary and Secondary Education
HB101 (Pollitt) allows school innovation teams to submit a plan to the State Board of Education for a state innovation waiver for a variety of purposes as outlined in the bill. Plans submitted to the State Board must include the provision of law for which the waiver is being requested, as well as demonstrate the necessity of the waiver, provide measurable performance targets and goals, and demonstrate support for the plan along with additional requirements as provided in the bill. School innovation waivers are only effective for three years and may be renewed. Only one waiver may be in effect per school at a time, and may not waive the school start date, teacher certification, teacher tenure, or any requirement imposed by federal law. The bill increases the state school funding for attendance of a student enrolled in a virtual class from 94 to 95 percent. The bill also expands the definition of average daily attendance to include pupils that are between the age of 3 to 5 and meet the criteria set forth in the bill. The bill requires students in public and charter schools to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before being eligible for a certificate of graduation. The bill would also extend the critical shortage working period for PSRS retirees to four years and allows districts to use critical shortage to hire a superintendent. MSTA testified in support.

HB580 (Riggs) requires DESE to submit an annual report to the General Assembly beginning June 30, 2022. The report will indicate the number of elementary and secondary students who reside in a residence with limited or no access to the Internet. The report shall indicate the total number of pupils statewide and by school district. MSTA testified in support.

HB581 (Riggs) establishes the 21st Century Missouri Education Task Force. Task force members will look into the current condition of the state’s public education system, programs, funding and make recommendations to the legislature.   

HB608 (E.Lewis) provides a new four-year certification method for individuals who want to substitute teach. The State Board of Education will issue certificates with a background check and a sponsorship by a public school district. Applicants for certification must also have at least 36 college hours or have completed a 20-hour online training and have a high school diploma or equivalency. Individuals must also complete a four-hour orientation developed by the district that sponsors them. Certificates will expire if the individual fails to substitute teach for at least five days in a calendar year. The bill also requires DESE to develop an online substitute training program with 20 hours of training related to subjects appropriate for substitute teaching.

Executive Session
HB1314 (Bosley) prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair texture and protective hairstyles in educational institutions that receive or benefit from state financial assistance or state student financial aid. Voted do pass with committee substitute.

HB108 (Bangert) allows registered voters to file a petition with the school board to add agenda items to any monthly school board meeting. Any agenda item added in this manner must be taken up by the board following the board procedure for such items. This bill requires school districts to provide instruction in cursive writing by the end of the fifth grade, including a proficiency test of competency in reading and writing cursive. This bill allows a school district to offer an elective social studies unit on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, or the New Testament of the Bible. The course will include the contents, history, literary style and structure, and influences on American history. No requirement shall be made by the district on the text translation students must use. This bill requires that any course offered shall follow applicable laws maintaining religious neutrality, and shall not endorse, favor, promote, or show hostility to any particular religion, nonreligious faith or religious perspective. The bill requires that schools display the national motto of the United States, “In God We Trust” in a prominent location. Voted do pass with committee substitute.

HB639 (Morse) designates May 10 of each year as school bus drivers’ appreciation day and encourages citizens to recognize the day with events and activities to express appreciation for the dedicated bus drivers who transport children safely to school every day. Voted do pass with committee substitute.  


HCS/HB349 (Christofanelli) creates the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. See earlier story. MSTA testified in opposition.

Executive Session
SB136 (Rehder) requires school districts to conduct state criminal history background checks on any person who is 18 or older, who is not counted by the district for purposes of average daily attendance, and who requests enrollment in a course that takes place on school property during regular school hours with students counted in the district’s average daily attendance. A person shall be prohibited from enrolling in such a course if he or she has been convicted of any crime or offense which would currently prevent the issuance of a teaching certificate. Voted do pass with committee substitute.

HB349 (Christofanelli) See earlier story. Voted do pass.