Legislature changes course and makes modification to voucher program
In a somewhat unusual move to make changes to a bill that was already passed and sent to the Governor, the legislature used a different bill to modify provisions of HB349 (Christofanelli) by cutting the dollar amount of vouchers that could be given out in the first year of the program. Less than a week after an education savings account program was sent to the governor, the legislature voted to cut the program in half. Lawmakers said the slash to the program was part of a previously negotiated deal that helped the bill win Senate approval in the first place.
An amendment was added to SB86 (Hegeman) which cut the amount of tax credits issued in the program’s first year from $50 million down to $25 million. Additionally, a $75 million cap on the program’s growth would be reduced to $50 million from $75 million.
As passed, HB349 establishes the “Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program” and allows residents to receive a tax credit for donating to certain educational assistance organizations. Those organizations would then provide scholarships to eligible students to be used toward a variety of costs, like private school tuition, tutoring, transportation and more.
The bill prioritizes scholarships for students who have special education needs or fall below 100% of the income standard used to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches — which is a little over $48,000 for a household of four in Missouri.
From there, students who fall below 200% of that standard — nearly $97,000 annually for a household of four — would be prioritized ahead of any remaining students.
The program is restricted to only counties and municipalities with more than 30,000 residents.
Other changes to the scholarship/voucher program included in SB86 allow only 10 such nonprofits scholarship granting organizations, with the counties of Jackson, St. Charles, St. Louis, Greene and St. Louis city only permitted to have six of those organizations.
MSTA is opposed to any scholarship/voucher program that allows taxpayer dollars to be used for schools that are not subject to the same standard of transparency and accountability applicable to public schools.
MSTA will be requesting that Governor Parson veto HB349. In the coming days and weeks MSTA members will be asked to contact the Governor and ask him to veto the bill. Be sure to take action when information is released.
Education issues pass in two bills
HB432 (Kelly) was truly agreed and finally passed by the legislature in the final week of session. The bill began as a child protection bill and was expanded throughout the session. Amendments were added to the bill in the Senate relating to education that included language aligned to MSTA resolutions supporting breastfeeding for public school employees.
While the bill was on the floor, Sen. Doug Beck added an amendment that would require each school district to adopt a written policy to provide accommodations for lactating employees, teachers and students to express breast milk, breast-feed a child, or address other needs relating to breast-feeding. The bill requires districts to provide at least three opportunities during the school day to accommodate the need to express breast milk or breast-feed. The language also requires each school building to contain accommodation of a room, other than a restroom, for the exclusive use of women to express breast milk or breast-feed. The room must be located close to a sink with running water and a refrigerator for breast milk storage. The room is also required to have proper ventilation, a door that may be locked, a work surface with a chair, and conveniently-placed electrical outlets. DESE is required to develop a model policy that districts may adopt.
The breast-feeding language passed in HB432 (H. Kelly), had been filed as a stand-alone bill in both the Senate SB76 (Beck) and House HB254 (P. Brown). MSTA testified in favor of both bills during their committee hearings.
MSTA resolutions are clear in supporting breast-feeding educators., MSTA supports districts adopting policies that allow for release time and appropriate accommodations for breastfeeding/pumping. Each building should be proactive in identifying an appropriate location and plan for a schedule that supports nursing mothers. This resolution adopted by the MSTA Assembly of Delegates was first proposed and supported by MSTA State President Halley Russell.
Other amendments added to the bill relating to education include language from HB387 (Bailey) regarding policies on seclusion and restraint in schools, and HB228 (Basye) to allow parents to record special education or Section 504 meetings with prior notice.
HB297 (Wallingford) was also passed by the legislature. The bill mostly contained provisions relating to higher education, but included an amendment from Sen. Karla Eslinger that would develop a statewide plan for career and technical education that ensures sustainability, viability and relevance by matching workforce needs with appropriate educational resources. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will convene work groups to develop and recommend performance standards. The department will develop model curriculum relating to CTE programs that may be used by school districts.
HB432 and HB297 were approved by both the House and Senate and will now be sent to the Governor for his consideration.
DESE allocates $50 million toward recruitment and retention efforts
The State Board of Education was briefed this week by assistant commissioner of the Office of Educator Quality, Dr. Paul Katnik, who has been spearheading the effort to address public education recruitment and retention issues in the state.
The program approved by the State Board of Education would create $10,000 grands that would be available to all 554 Missouri public school districts and charter schools to expand their Grow Your Own programs. The department has been working with school districts to create Grow Your Own programs to encourage students to go into the teaching profession. In many districts, SMSTA has been working hand in hand with districts to identify interested students and develop the programs. The program would make the grants available to districts and charter schools to attract individuals to pursue a career in education, and then keep high quality teachers in the profession.
The department will also make additional grants available to implement strategies to address recruitment and retention including:
- Hiring in harder to fill positions such as districts or charter schools serving higher numbers of students of color and students in poverty
- Strategies that may impact retention including things like providing stipends for mentors of new teachers or other non-contractual duties
- Supporting teachers who are pursuing National Board Certification
- Addressing issues identified in staff culture and climate surveys
- Expanding professional learning and networking opportunities for educators
- Increasing teacher voice and teacher leadership opportunities
MSTA has been working with the department in these efforts, serving on advisory boards, and providing data from member surveys regarding teacher recruitment and retention.
Legislative session ends in gridlock on last day
After debate and negotiations on issues not related to education, the Senate came to a screeching halt on Friday, leaving many education bills unresolved. Legislation that was still in the process leading up to the last day of session did not pass. There were two large omnibus bills that had both passed out of the chamber they were filed in, but were unresolved at the conclusion of session at 6:00 p.m.
The House had worked on SB323 (May) which started out as legislation that allowed schools to offer elective courses in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Existing state law already allows that books of a religious nature may be used in public schools as part of instruction in elective courses in literature and history, if such books are used in the appropriate way and consistent with the First Amendment.
The House added many provisions to the bill including:
- HB64 (Pike) to revise the per pupil figure used to calculate state funding for high needs students.
- HB108 (Bangert) to require students to receive instruction in cursive handwriting.
- HB228 (Basye) to allow parents to record special education or Section 504 meetings with prior notice.
- HB306 (Griesheimer) to require districts to serve gifted students.
- HB320 (Fitzwater) to require computer science courses or imbedded instruction in high schools.
- HB387 (Bailey) regarding policies on seclusion and restraint.
- HB465 (Pike) to include stress management content in professional development for suicide prevention.
- HB624 (Richey) to create an alternative diploma program and create a task force and grant program to support competency-based education.
- HB733 (Patterson) to enact several provisions regarding workforce development. The bill revises childcare and online attendance provisions for adult high schools and creates a new state-funded program for adults to earn workforce credentials.
- HB872 (Pike) to allow half-day programs to have proportional requirements for inclement weather makeup days.
- HB896 (R. Black) to require DESE to create a statewide plan for career and technical education programs.
- HB254 (P. Brown) to require districts to have a plan and accommodate breastfeeding educators.
- HB608 (E. Lewis) changes the requirements for substitute teachers.
- HB101 (Pollitt) creates an innovation waiver program.
Many of these provisions were deemed as non-controversial and had wide ranging, bi-partisan support throughout the session, but on Friday an amendment was added that would require local school boards to place items on their board agendas if a petition was filed requiring a vote of the board on the item placed via petition. This broad language could include almost any decision made by a school district board or administration.
The Senate had several bills relating to education including HB320 (Griesheimer) an omnibus education bill and HB137 (Richey) relating to funding for charter schools. Niether bill was ultimately brought before the senate for debate.
Any bills not passed during the regular session will have to be filed as new bills in the next legislative session to start the process again in January 2022.