An early proposal in the Missouri General Assembly would reduce state funding to school districts that hire outside, for-profit agencies to organize summer school programs.
That means Columbia Public Schools could lose money if the bill passes because the district contracts with Newton Learning Program to run summer schools.
State Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, proposed the bill last week.
“I have a problem with a private company taking taxpayer money out of the school,” Wallace said. “If they want to contract, they only get single funding.”
The state allows districts to double-count summer school students, in effect providing twice the normal per-pupil allotment of state aid.
Wallace’s House Bill 87, however, would allow districts that contract with private companies to run summer school to count each student only once.
“I’m trying to keep it from being a profitable venture, when we’re significantly underfunding our schools,” said Wallace, a former superintendent of two school districts in southern Missouri.
Newton Learning President Larry Reynolds said the bill is a new concept to him.
“In general, in this country, the overriding principle in the state of the union is that local school boards govern in the best way they see fit,” Reynolds said. “We’re not familiar with a state legislature that would take away funding from a local school. It’s really a brand-new idea. It’s in contrast with federal regulations, moving toward local school control and not away.”
Newton operates in 66 of the 524 school districts in Missouri and in 32 other states, none of which has seen a similar bill filed.
In Newton’s first year of coordinating Columbia’s summer school program, enrollment rose from about 1,000 students in 2003 to 5,400 in 2004. To encourage enrollment, Newton offered a $100 incentive to each student who attended every day of summer school. Next summer, Columbia school officials plan to use Newton again.
“The summer school programs allow you to double-count programs accredited for state aid … and we were able to take advantage of that double-counting,” said Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent of the Columbia district. He said the district collected in the range of $2.3 million to $2.5 million more than it spent on the summer school program.
Cowherd said the program also is academically sound.
“The state is already allowing charter schools by private industries, so I don’t quite see the difference,” he said.
Wallace doesn’t agree.
“This company offers monetary incentive for kids to go to school,” Wallace said. “In the sense they’ve got children coming to school simply for money. It’s one of their tactics, and in my opinion it is not the reason we go to school.”
Reynolds thinks that a private-public relationship is integral to the survival of public schools and that his company’s role is a part of that.
“America’s public schools have a long history with the people who provide pencils, chalk, erasers, the contractors who build the buildings,” he said. “Public schools couldn’t survive without those vendors. Where we would get our books?”