JEFFERSON CITY — State education officials would be able to intervene sooner to turn around struggling Missouri school districts under a measure that cleared the legislature on Wednesday and now heads to Gov. Jay Nixon.
Currently, school districts that lose accreditation have two years before state education officials can step in. The legislation would eliminate the waiting period and expand the available options for how to govern unaccredited school districts. 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 improve the school system. State education officials would need to use 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 academic progress is not on track toward earning accreditation in the next year.
Attempts to approve the education measure had bogged down amid political jockeying over whether to push for broader changes to the state's school system. This year, the measure stalled in the state House after lawmakers last week rejected an effort to include changes to how educators are evaluated. The legislation moved forward after House leaders removed the evaluation portion.
Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce has pushed to allow quicker state intervention in struggling districts during the past two legislative sessions. He has called for keeping separate the various education issues and called the measure approved by the Legislature a "very, very positive step."
"I wanted this passed last year. We've delayed by about 18 months, so that's not good. But this is better than not getting it done," said Pearce, R-Warrensburg.
The Senate gave the legislation final approval 32-1 on Wednesday after the state House approved it 107-49 on Tuesday. The measure now goes to Nixon and would take effect in late August.
Missouri has three unaccredited school districts. The Normandy School District in St. Louis County became unaccredited effective this past January. The Kansas City School District has not been accredited since Jan. 1, 2012, and the district is to lapse June 30, 2014. A special administrative board oversees the Riverview Gardens School District in St. Louis County that also is unaccredited.
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 and those elsewhere in Missouri.