JEFFERSON CITY — In the coming weeks the Missouri General Assembly will be discussing a bill encompassing several education reform measures. The bill would eliminate teacher tenure in favor of multi-year contracts, revise the school funding formula and allow students to transfer from unaccredited districts.
While some legislators have voiced concerns about the unintended consequences of the legislation, there seems to be a consensus that items dealing with underfunded and unaccredited school districts need to be addressed.
"I’ve been in the legislature a little over 12 years and I’ve seen very little true education reform," said Senate Republican Floor Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County. "I think what you have bringing it to a head this year is you’ve got the school funding formula issue and you’ve got Turner v. the Clayton School District. And I think those two issues are being used to kind of try to drive some additional education issues."
Dempsey said legislators in favor of education reform didn't have the numbers to pass reform before but are using these benchmark issues to push forward reforms like teacher evaluations.
"I think what they're looking at is leveraging the school funding formula changes and this Clayton School District case as an opportunity to get people to the table," Dempsey said.
The main portion of the bill is focused on dealing with the unaccredited metropolitan districts in St. Louis and Kansas City, but some legislators think the changes would affect schools throughout Missouri.
“This bill touches every school throughout the state," Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said. "If you want to fix what you say you want to fix it needs to be specific to those districts.”
Other lawmakers in the House are more supportive of packaging the legislation. House Republican Floor Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said there will always be disagreement when "taking down the status quo." Jones said the last major education reform he knew of was in the '90s when there was a Democratic majority and a Democratic governor.
"We have a comprehensive education crisis in this state on all sorts of levels and I think it would be inappropriate for us to address all the issues in any way other than a comprehensive bill," Jones said.
The comprehensive bill Jones refers to is a combination of several pieces of legislation, all dealing with education. Measures in the bill would:
- Provide scholarships, in the form of tax credits, so students from unaccredited city districts could transfer to county, private or parochial schools.
- Allow charter schools to expand to unaccredited districts and impose greater accountability and transparency standards on the non-traditional public schools.
- Change the way school funding is calculated in an attempt to distribute funds more equally among urban and rural districts.
- Eliminate the possibility of tenure for new teachers in favor of multi-year contracts and create a new system of evaluating teacher performance.
The bill was passed out of committee several weeks ago and waits in the Rules Committee before it can be debated on the floor.
When the legislature returns after it's break, House and Senate leaders said they will begin discussion on issues where there is more ideological disagreement, such as education.
“Those pieces of legislation have been discussed now for quite a while, as time has elapsed we find it more and more difficult to find a consensus on some of those issues,” said Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter.
A representative from the Missouri National Education Association echoed the concerns of lawmakers like Lampe and Dempsey. The organization's legislative director, Otto Fajen, said it is counterproductive to discuss issues where there is a strong consensus, such as the funding formula and transfers from unaccredited districts, alongside issues that could face strong disagreement.
"From the National Education Association perspective, we have enough concerns as it is that we would not like to see it move through the House," Fajen said.
In the current session, the legislature has sent two business bills to the governor for his signature. Speaker of the House Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said he planned for the House to take up issues requiring more discussion after legislative spring break. The General Assembly took a week off beginning last Thursday.