Missouri General Assembly End-of-Session Wrap Up

 
 
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The big education initiatives from the 2019 session

The Missouri General Assembly ended the 2019 session having passed several education bills while leaving others on the table. Our May 3 blog post highlighted many of the workforce readiness and workforce development initiatives introduced this year. The “Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant,” a priority of Governor Parson’s workforce development initiative, was passed within SB 68, a larger workforce development bill. Missouri joins several other states including Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, and Tennessee that also passed workforce development legislation this year.

HB 604 was the session’s education omnibus bill. A few of the highlights are noted below. For all of the provisions of HB 604, please see the full text of the bill.

  • “School Turnaround Program” was the underlying bill and establishes intervention options in low-achieving schools. While the legislation passed, it did not have the requisite appropriation to operate in fiscal year 2020.

  • Another section of the bill provides the “transfer fix” that has been discussed and debated since the 2013 Missouri Supreme Court ruling confirming the rights of students to transfer out of unaccredited districts. The provision sets a tuition rate and clarifies other parameters around transfers.

  • School calendar options were changed so that a school district may not set a start date of more than 14 days before Labor Day.

  • Beginning in school year 2020-21, school districts will be required only to have make up days for up to six days missed for inclement weather. The requirement to make up half days for every inclement weather day beyond six was eliminated. (Inclement weather make up days beyond six were also forgiven for the 2018-19 school year, though given the emergency clause for the bill was not adopted, the law will not likely go into effect in time to implement for the 2018-19 school year.)

  • A student earning dual credit in high school may receive reimbursement through the A+ Schools Program if the student meets all other A+ requirements.

SB 68, HB 604, and other education bills passed by the General Assembly now move to Governor Parson to await signature.

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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

One of the most intensely debated issues in higher education was contained within the higher education budget bill. Appropriations to public institutions of higher education included language restricting institutions from charging in-state tuition to students with “unlawful immigration status” and says those students must be charged the tuition rate of international students. In addition, the bill prohibits scholarship funds from being given to students with what the bill describes as “unlawful immigration status in the United States.” At one point in the negotiating process, language would have allowed individual institutions to set their own policies regarding tuition for students with unlawful immigration status. In the end, that language was removed and the restrictions were included in the final bill.

While DACA is still not resolved at the federal level, states are enacting laws relating to undocumented immigrant children and access to higher education.

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Legislation That Did Not Pass...But Is Likely To Return

Tax Credit Education Scholarships

Legislation on two issues--1) tax credit scholarship programs and 2) charter school expansion and accountability--have been introduced for several years but failed to pass again this year. Both of these issues ignite vigorous debate on school choice and use of public funding to support education.

Three bills creating “Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program” were filed this year: HB 34, HB 478, and SB 160. The legislation combined the principles of tuition tax credits for businesses and individuals with education savings accounts managed by parents.

Supporters see the scholarship program as a tool of empowerment for parents that gives their children access to different educational opportunities. Opponents say the scholarship program will divert money from public schools and allow it to go to private schools that do not have to meet all of the same requirements as public schools. School choice programs, including tax credit scholarships, exist in several states such Arizona and Florida and have been supported at the federal level by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. School choice programs often find opposition from education organizations that support of traditional public schools.

Charter Schools: Expansion and Accountability

Charter schools have been authorized to operate in Kansas City and St. Louis since 1998. SB 292, the only charter school bill to make it to a floor debate this session, contained numerous provisions including sponsorship, accountability, new charter school proposals, and admissions criteria.  

Geographic expansion of charter schools and charter school accountability are two of the key issues that continue to go unresolved. Expansion proposals have sometimes been about population density and potential markets, while other proposals make expansion contingent upon the low academic performance of traditional public school districts. One of the ongoing discussions in Missouri is on appropriate, reasonable metrics for holding charter schools to increased accountability standards. Currently, comparing the achievement of a charter school that could be serving only a few grade levels to the achievement of a K-12 district does not provide a sound basis for decision making.   

The range of state laws on how charter schools are operated and governed, as well as the indicators of success being measured, make state-to-state comparison of charter school policies challenging. Nonetheless, an examination of charter law in other states could provide considerations for ways to address the ongoing questions around expansion and accountability.

The 2019 legislative session has ended, but work in education policy is ongoing. We look forward to the continuing dialogue and offering expertise and research to inform the conversation.

 

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