JEFFERSON CITY — Newly hired Missouri public school teachers would not have the possibility of tenure under an omnibus education bill approved by the House Education Committee.
That the bill would eliminate a measure of job security in favor of yearly contracts is one of several potentially controversial issues lumped together in a bill attempting to improve Missouri's schools.
Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, and other members of the committee expressed concern that including multiple important issues in one bill could end up killing the entire bill.
As approved by the committee, education policy issues covered by the bill include:
- Establishing the Teacher Tenure Act, which would remove the possibility of tenure for teachers hired after June 30, 2013. It would also eliminate seniority-based layoffs.
- Providing government-funded alternatives to public schools. The Passport Scholarship provision of the bill would create a tax credit that would pay for a student living in an unaccredited district to transfer to a private or parochial school. The tax credit would cover tuition and fees at the county school, including the cost of transportation. The cost of the tax credit would be assumed by the unaccredited district which, according to the Missouri Revised Statutes, is responsible for the fees of the transferring student.
The Supreme Court decision in Turner v. School District of Clayton does not give county schools the option to refuse a city student applying for transfer. Members of the committee said this provision is an attempt to protect the city school district financially and give the county schools more flexibility. A study by a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor concluded that almost 16,000 students would transfer out of the unaccredited St. Louis Public School District if they had the choice. Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County, said there are only 8,300 spots available in county schools.
- Giving the State Board of Education more power over an unaccredited district. The board would be given powers to determine an "alternative form of governance," including establishing a special administrative board and creating a plan to regain accreditation.
- Adjusting distribution of state funds to get more money to poorer districts. The provision is designed to address the legislature's failure to "fully fund" the School Foundation Formula that determines allocation of funds to the state's public schools. The formula requires an annual increase in state funds to phase out a disparity in per-student spending among districts. Economic conditions, however, have prevented the legislature from meeting the law's funding requirements.
- Allowing an expansion of charter schools. Charter schools are currently limited to the St. Louis and Kansas City districts, but they could move into any district that loses accreditation after three years of provisional accreditation.
- Increasing accountability and transparency standards for charter schools. Charter schools would be required to prove they are in compliance with state and federal education standards as well as in solid financial standing before their charter would be renewed. Charter schools also would be required to report financial problems to their sponsor immediately to prevent sudden closures.
- Eliminating the minimum salary requirement for teachers with post-graduate degrees.
- Creating a "clearinghouse," which is a neutral third party to coordinate student transfers from unaccredited districts.
The substitute passed along mostly party lines with a 13-9 vote. Rep. Mike Thomson of Maryville and Rep. Paul Fitzwater of Potosi were the only Republicans to vote against the legislation.
Thomson sponsored another bill revising the school funding formula that passed out of committee two weeks ago. He said he voted against the combined bill because it was overreaching.
"What I fear is that as this moves things through the process, there will be others with that same fear and the burden of it kills this bill," Thomson said. "I want to do what's best for the kids."
Democratic representatives echoed Thomson's concern about the breadth of the bill. Lampe said she would vote against the package because of the effect the legislation would have on well-performing districts like the one she represents in Springfield.
"I would argue that the bill may, in fact, help students in St. Louis and in Kansas City, but it is broad-sweeping throughout the state," said Lampe, a former teacher.
Representatives voting in favor of the bill said that even if the legislation isn't perfect, a solution needed to be passed to help students in the unaccredited districts.
"We're here today trying to give the kids in St. Louis a better opportunity," Stream said. "Even though I don't agree with some of these things, I'm going to vote yes."
Otto Fajen, a representative of the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association, said the association does not support packaging the issues because it puts supported pieces of legislation right next to unpopular ones. He said issues like changing the formula, transfers from unaccredited districts and alternative governance for unaccredited schools have support in the General Assembly and should be moved forward without delay.
"From the NEA perspective, we have enough concerns as it is," Fajen said. "We would not like to see the bill move through the House."
The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration.