Reimagining Education

CEAM State Policy Director, Kate Casas, testifies before the Missouri Joint Committee on Education

Good afternoon Mr. Chairman, Vice Chairmen, and members of the committee. My name is Kate Casas and I am the State Director of the Children’s Education Council of Missouri.

 

As many of you know, I have worked with the staff at the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri to help make the transfer process smooth for thousands of children in Normandy, Riverview Gardens, and surrounding school districts. From this vantage point I have gotten to see the successes of the transportation program and the frustration felt by parents who were both unable to transfer and those who want the focus to be on fixing the issues plaguing the unaccredited districts.

 

As you are considering the various options to improve the RSMo167.131 that will surely arise over the next several months, I urge you to keep the following three things in mind:

  1. Children in failed school districts need more high quality options, not fewer.
  2. School districts need local control over the number of children entering a non-resident school district but at the same time, we must ensure there is a high quality seat for all children who want to leave an unaccredited district.
  3. No child in a failed district should have to wait for access to a high quality education that the Missouri Supreme Court has said is legally available to them now.

 

CECM has been working with CSD, a group of administrators from the St. Louis region, and education advocacy groups in an effort to develop a compromise that will address the concerns of all parties working to ensure access to a high quality education for all Missouri’s kids.

 

Many of the solutions, both long term and short term, are ideas that have developed as a result of these group discussions and compromises.

 

First, we should allow local school districts the option to set reasonable class size limits and allow any child who chooses to transfer out of their failed school to remain in the new school until they graduate regardless of their resident district’s accreditation status. If the number of students accepted by the neighboring accredited districts is going to be determined by those districts, I also believe the way tuition is calculated for each transferring student, should also be adjusted. While the average tuition cost across St. Louis County is about $12,000, the incremental cost of educating a transfer student is much lower.  I believe the cost of tuition for a transfer student should be adjusted to more accurately reflect the cost of educating transfer students.

 

Doing these two things, would help to maintain the quality of education in the accredited districts, but would also place limits on the number of high quality seats available. In order to ensure that every child who wants to leave their unaccredited school, has a high quality seat, there will need to be an expansion of the kinds of schools children in unaccredited districts can attend. As we saw this summer, there will be some districts who fill their empty seats and some parents who do not want their children to ride a bus across an entire county; therefore, there will need to be some additional options for children who want to leave their unaccredited districts. This could be accomplished by doing the following:

  1. Make it easier for high quality charter operators to open in unaccredited districts by imposing a deadline of the appointment of the Charter Commission, and relaxing the September 1 application deadline for high quality charter operators.
  2. Allow tuition payments to be sent to private schools that agree to meet some accountability, cap tuition at the state average, and ban discrimination based on religion/race/sexual orientation/ability.
  3. Allow school districts and non-profits to sponsor charter schools in other school districts

 

Additionally, transportation has been a major barrier for many families who want to leave their unaccredited districts. I believe that some of the transportation costs could be alleviated if families were able to access alternative kinds of schools closer to home.

 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there needs to be quick action taken to change how failed schools are governed. More than 75% of students have chosen to stay in their unaccredited district. As a result, CECM believes that the General Assembly must develop a solution for improving the quality of education for these and future students who are trapped in failed districts.  One possible solution would be to adopt the recovery school district model that has had early successes turning around troubled schools in Louisiana and Tennessee.  In this model, schools that do not meet a minimum standard of performance are removed from their school district and placed in a Recovery District. The Recovery District is operated by a CEO who reports directly to the State Board of Education or the Commissioner of Education. This CEO has broad power to decide how best to turn around a failed school in the least amount of time.

 

In order to preserve time, I have brought copies of an extensive report done on the Tennessee Recovery School District model and some of the successes and challenges that state has experienced.

 

I want to thank you for the time you have already dedicated to this issue and all the time I’m sure you will be dedicating in the future. I would be happy to answer any questions.

 

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