JEFFERSON CITY — State education officials could step in quicker to assist failing Missouri school districts under legislation approved Thursday in the House.
Lawmakers were moving to allow more rapid state involvement in troubled districts two months after Kansas City schools became unaccredited. Missouri's current two-year waiting period means the state must wait until at least June 2014 before intervening. Two other districts also are unaccredited — St. Louis Public Schools and the Riverview Gardens School District in St. Louis County — but each lost state accreditation in 2007.
"We are trying to get help to them to get the ship righted," said Rep. Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe, who is sponsoring the measure.
The House voted 148-0 to pass the school accreditation legislation, which means it moves to the state Senate. If signed into law, the bill would take effect immediately instead of the standard Aug. 28 effective date.
Education issues has received significant attention this legislative session, and Republican House leaders have said they want to pursue a broad education overhaul that could include issues such as expanding charter schools and authorizing state tax credits for scholarships that help students from troubled school districts transfer to private schools.
House Minority Leader Mike Talboy praised the school accreditation legislation, which was kept separate from more controversial education issues.
"This is a very useful tool that we could use to make sure when these schools become unaccredited, we can start remedying the problem right away," said Talboy, D-Kansas City.
Under the legislation, the state Board of Education would have several options for the oversight of unaccredited school districts. Existing options — appointing a special administrative board, merging the unaccredited district with a nearby district or splitting unaccredited districts into several new school systems — would remain. In addition, state education officials could keep the existing school board in place while setting specific conditions or designing an alternative governing system.
If officials opt for an alternative system, they would need to give the rationale for that choice and have a system for accepting public comment. Expectations would need to be set for boosting academic performance, including a goal for when the schools would regain state accreditation. The state Board of Education would have to review and certify the alternative oversight structure every three years for districts that have not yet regained accreditation. Also, the legislature and governor would receive annual reports about districts' progress.
Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who previously urged the legislature to consider eliminating the two-year waiting period after a district loses accreditation, supported the measure when it was considered by a House committee earlier this year.