Missouri House approves faster intervention for struggling school districts

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 9:46 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House approved legislation Tuesday that could allow state education officials to intervene more quickly in struggling districts while expanding the menu of actions to possibly take.

Currently, school districts that lose accreditation have two years before state education officials can step in. The legislation passed by the House would eliminate the waiting period and expand the options for governing the unaccredited district. The state Board of Education could prescribe conditions under which the existing local school board can continue to oversee the struggling district, establish a special administrative board, merge the district with neighboring ones, split the district into several new ones or design an alternative structure.

However, there would be a time limit for local school board members to demonstrate improvement. State education officials would need a different approach if an unaccredited school district has not regained accreditation after three school years or if the state Board of Education determines after two years that the school system is not on track toward earning accreditation.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said the measure "allows state Board of Education to have more flexibility in helping struggling school districts turn their situation around."

House members approved the legislation 107-49, and it now returns to the state Senate where lawmakers have passed similar legislation this year. Lawmakers have until the end of the day Friday to pass the same version of the legislation before their mandatory adjournment. If approved by the Legislature and signed into law, the measure would take effect in late August.

Missouri has two unaccredited school districts. The loss of accreditation for the Normandy School District in St. Louis County became effective in January, and the Kansas City School District has not been accredited since Jan. 1, 2012. The Kansas City district is to lapse June 30, 2014.

Lawmakers considered similar legislation last year, but it bogged down amid political jockeying over an effort by some House members to push for broader changes to the state's education system.

A similar effort this year stalled the education legislation last week after House members rejected an effort to include changes to educator evaluations. The education measure was approved after lawmakers removed the evaluation portion.

In addition to school accreditation, the legislation also would allow teachers in St. Louis who have tenure to be fired for "incompetency." Supporters say the change would align the standards in St. Louis with those elsewhere in Missouri.

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