Virtual school bill sent to governor

Students in struggling districts would be allowed to enroll in the statewide school.
Friday, May 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:03 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Students in struggling districts would have the chance to join the new statewide virtual school under legislation sent to Gov. Matt Blunt on Thursday.

To reach a vote on the measure, supporters first had to agree to drop a provision in the bill that could have made it easier for people to become a teacher after years working in other fields.

The bill allows students to enroll in the Internet-based program if their school districts fall short of full state accreditation for two consecutive years. That provision affects students in 13 school districts currently.

Those students’ districts would be required to pay for the students to enter the virtual school. Their enrollment would be in addition to the lottery system being used statewide to determine which students get state-funded slots in the virtual school.

The underlying bill prohibits schools from starting more than 10 days before Labor Day unless the district first conducts a public meeting and votes on an earlier start date. School boards would have to vote every year to approve the earlier start date. That was especially important to Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, whose district includes the tourist destination of Branson.

The measure also changes state policy on districts making up school days lost to bad weather.

Under current law, schools that exceed their scheduled snow days must add up to an additional eight days to make up for missed classes. After that, schools need to make up for only half the lost time.

The legislation requires all districts to include six days in their schedules to make up for bad weather if needed. If districts use up those days, they would have to make up half the remaining days. But time off for hot weather is excluded.

The Senate passed the measure 34-0 Wednesday. The House followed suit 141-10 on Thursday.

Cut from the legislation was a proposal to create an alternative process for people to earn their teaching certificates in Missouri. The plan would have allowed people who completed the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence program to be certified.

Supporters said the idea was to encourage professionals, such as engineers or computer scientists, who initially pursued more lucrative jobs to make the leap to teaching and give students access to experts with real-world experience.

Such professionals still would have had to fulfill some requirements, including passing a state exam testing competency that traditionally certified teachers also complete, spending up to a year in a classroom first and taking part in a mentoring program and professional development.

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