Reimagining Education

Education bills to watch in 2021

The weather is colder, the days are getting shorter, and people are preparing for the holidays which can only mean one thing — it’s time for a first look at the wide variety of education-related legislation that has been already been prefilled in Missouri.

As a result of the frustrations that families across the state have experienced achieving a quality education during the pandemic, many of the bills that have been pre-filed are focused on giving parents and guardians more control over their children’s education and providing more flexibility in Missouri’s educational system.

One key bill, SB25, filed by Sen. William Eigel, would create a way to help parents afford private schools through an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) and expand where charter schools could open to any school district located within a charter county as well as in any municipality with a population greater than 30,000.

With an ESA, families would no longer be limited to the offerings of their assigned neighborhood schools. Instead, they would have the freedom to customize the best learning environment for their child based on their needs.

Private school educational opportunities

So far at least six bills have been filed in the Missouri House and Senate focused on making it easier for struggling Missouri families to access a high-quality education through private school options. While there are slight differences between each bill, passing any of them would be a major victory for Missouri familes.

The first bill, filed by Sen. Andrew Koenig (SB23), is similar to legislation he has filed in previous years and would create Missouri’s first-ever Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. Sen. Robert Onder‘s SB251 is substantially similar to Sen. Koenig’s bill.

Under SB23, SB25, and SB251, students who have attended a public school for the previous semester and are in foster care, have special needs, have been bullied, or are children of military personnel would be eligible to receive a scholarship of up to the state adequacy target (around $6,000). Those scholarships could then be used to pay for public or private school tuition, virtual education expenses, tutoring, therapies, or homeschooling expenses.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli has filed a similar bill in the House, HB349, but his bill would be open for any student living in a county with a charter form of government or any city with at least 30,000 residents

Sen. Mike Cierpiot has filed a separate plan for private school opportunity, SB30, that would create the “Show Me a Brighter Future Scholarship.” This plan would use the MOST 529 program to grant scholarships to low-income students to pay for private school tuition.

Sen. Rick Brattin offers another path for low-income students to access a private school education with SB296 which creates a state-funded ESA program. Under his proposed legislation, parents could set up ESA accounts for their children and the state would transfer all state and local education funding for that student to the account. The family could then use the account to cover qualifying educational costs.

Finally, HB528, filed by Rep. Mike Haffner, would allow families to take a tax credit for private school or homeschool expense that they incurred.

Improving virtual education

Sen. Robert Onder is again working to improve access to virtual education for Missouri families with SB95 which would fix a number of issues with MOCAP program and make it easier for students to directly enroll in virtual education programs through MOCAP.

Districts across the state have blocked student access to the program through a variety of methods over the past year, resulting in multiple lawsuits that have either been settled or found in favor of the students.

Under SB95 families would have the final right to choose to enroll in a MOCAP program and accountability and assessment data for students enrolled in MOCAP programs would be removed from district scores and assessed at the state level. This simple fix would finally give families access to the high-quality virtual education they have been fighting to obtain for years.

Several other bills have been filed that are aimed at improving district-based distance learning and helping parents pay for alternatives they have had to seek out this year during the pandemic.

Rep. Justin Hill‘s HB510 would allow any virtual course offered by a Missouri school district to become a MOCAP course and set clear, state-wide guidelines for districts to follow when creating distance education plans in the event of future emergencies.

Finally, Rep. Charles Basye‘s HB442 would create a tax credit for parents of certain children receiving virtual or remote education.

Fixing the funding glitch for charter schools

Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer‘s SB218 and Rep. Doug Richey‘s HB137 are designed to “fix the glitch” in charter school funding.

A glitch in the current charter law means that charter public school students receive, on average, $1,100 less in educational funding than their district public school peers. This ‘glitch’ in Missouri’s charter school law is costing charter public school students nearly $25 million dollars a year for their education. These two bills would fix those issues and ensure that every Missouri public school student receives equitable funding.

There are also two bills, Sen. Cindy O’LaughlinSB259 and Rep. Charles Basye‘s HB322, which are aimed at allowing the creation of a “recovery” charter high school in Kansas City that would specifically serve high school students who are in recovery from substance abuse.

Creating more public school options

Several bills that have been profiled are also aimed at creating more options for students among public schools, essentially designed to create a program where students would be free to attend different schools within their own district or even in another district.

Rep. John Wiemann‘s HB303 would allow students to attend any school in a non-resident district and would require districts to identify the number of transfer students they could accept each year.

Rep. Nick Schroer‘s HB496 would allow families sending their children to a non-resident district public school to claim a tax credit for tuition expenses.

Improving the quality of schools

Several bills are aimed at fixing issues with school performance, finances, curriculum, and assessment processes.

Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin‘s SB133 would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to publish a list of the of schools performing in the bottom 5% of schools for more than three years and sets in place several options for turning those schools around, creating quality school choice options in those districts, or closing the schools. DESE already maintains a list fo the bottom 5% of schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Rep. Jered Taylor‘s HB93 and Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin‘s SB260 are aimed at curbing skyrocketing superintendent salaries. Under these proposals, superintendents’ compensation would be limited to 3.5 times the average total compensation provided to all teachers who are employed full time by the school district. The bill also requires superintendents to live within the boundaries of the school district.

Several bills, Rep. David Gregory‘s HB368, Rep. Ann Kelley‘s HB312, and Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin‘s SB54, are aimed at improving reading throughout the state by requiring every school to use an evidenced-based reading curriculum. With less than half of Missouri students reading on grade level this is a key piece of legislation to improve education.

Rep. Jered Taylor‘s HB94 would require the state to stick with state assessment tests for at least five years before making any changes. This is critical if we want to have a clear idea of how our children are doing in school because every time the state changes the tests it resets any ability to compare to previous years and makes it impossible to tell if schools are improving or losing ground.

Other bills to watch

Here is a brief break down of other bills that are education-related:

  • HB306 and SB151 –  Requires school districts with a certain number of gifted students to establish a state-approved program for such students 
  • SB55 and HB494 – Prohibits public school membership in any statewide activities association that prohibits home school students from participating in any event or activity offered by the school district in which the student resides.
  • HB228 – Permits recording of IEP or Section 504 meetings by a student’s parent or legal guardian.
  • SB33, SB35 and HB520 – Establishes the Competency-based Education Grant Program and Competency-based Education Task Force, and allows school districts and charter schools to receive funding for high school students taking competency-based credits
  • SB54 – Requires each local school district and charter school to have a policy for reading success plans for certain pupils in grades kindergarten through fourth grade
  • HB119 and HB387 – Modifies provisions relating to seclusion and restraint policies in public schools
  • HB151 – Allows school districts that share superintendents to receive additional state aid
  • HB320 – Changes provisions relating to computer science courses
  • HB320 – Changes provisions relating to computer science courses
  • HB514 –  Requires school districts that do not provide in-person instruction to provide vouchers to pay for the expenses of providing in-person instruction in an alternative setting
  • HB108 – Requires school districts to provide instruction in cursive writing
  • HJR1 –  Provides for parents’ exclusive right to control the upbringing of their children
  • HB206 – Establishes a “Council for Community Education” within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • HB255 –  Creates new provisions relating to the Missouri school improvement program
  • SB28 – Modifies provisions of the Missouri Education Savings Program
  • HB492 –  Requires school districts and charter schools to develop a policy for inspection of classroom instructional material

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