Legislative leaders push extreme agenda and fail to act on real needs of students and educators.
By Otto Fajen, MNEA legislative director
The 2012 legislative session is over, and the legislature did not respond to the need for action this year on the key education issues: stabilizing formula aid next year and allowing prompt intervention by the State Board of Education in support of unaccredited districts and their students and communities.
Instead, legislative leaders were intent on pushing a radical and unworkable agenda. That agenda includes repeal of teacher tenure, mandates for evaluations based on student test scores, and expansion of charter schools.
NATIONAL EXTREMIST GROUP PUSHES TENURE REPEAL/EVALUATION MANDATES/LAYOFFS
An extremist group known as Students First, centered in Sacramento, CA, has hired numerous lobbyists in Missouri and is pushing the various changes in tenure and evaluation policy contained in the various versions of House Bill 1526 and in Senate Bill 806.
Both S.B. 806 and H.B. 1526 started out with provisions to repeal teacher tenure; impose mandates regarding teacher evaluations in every district, including requiring at least 50 percent of every teacher's evaluation to be determined based upon student results on state assessments; and make sweeping, unworkable changes to the state's law regarding reduction in force. Missouri NEA opposed both bills.
The Senate did not approve S.B. 806. In its final form, S.B. 806 would have doubled Missouri's lengthy teacher probationary period from five to 10 years.
The House passed a version of House Committee Substitute/H.B. 1526, which damages reduction-in-force requirements by undermining respect for certification, experience and commitment to the district, while forcing districts to create an entirely new system to determine layoff priorities and leaving districts vulnerable to various legal challenges in implementing this new, untested mandate.
House leaders held up final approval of H.B. 1174 regarding state intervention in unaccredited districts in an attempt to pressure the Senate to take up and pass H.B. 1526, but the bill died just 15 minutes before the end of the session.
MNEA opposes the extremist agenda of Students First, an agenda of unworkable responses directed toward policies and practices in other parts of the nation.
TEACHER EVALUATIONS AND FAIR DISMISSAL POLICY
Teachers need an effective voice in their schools. Teacher tenure is just a process to address issues of concern and ensure teachers are not fired arbitrarily. Missouri already has one of the longest probationary periods for teachers of any state. MNEA urges that the probationary period be shortened to no more than three years and that teacher termination hearings be held before an impartial hearing officer who can render an unbiased ruling, rather than before the local school board, where local politics can affect the decision.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Missouri NEA fought throughout the 2012 legislative session for its priorities for children and public education. MNEA staff and member leaders worked to protect and expand rights for all education employees, maintain funding for public education and fight back numerous attacks on public schools.
Missouri needs legislators who will support the needs of children, adequately fund public education and respect the rights of education employees. You can help support MNEA’s electoral work by supporting MNEA's recommended candidates for the Missouri House and Senate and other elected offices in the 2012 election cycle. For more information, go to www.mnea.org/Missouri/
Where districts face challenges with under-performing teachers, the real issue to address is establishing a quality evaluation system that provides teachers with feedback and support in improving performance and addressing concerns. MNEA supports the common-sense standards for high-quality teacher evaluations contained in Senate Bill 654 and H.B. 1366. Legislative leaders effectively stifled meaningful debate on these common-sense steps to improve teacher evaluations in Missouri.
CIRCUIT JUDGE OVERRULES TRANSFER LAW AS UNENFORCEABLE IN ST. LOUIS CITY CASE
St. Louis County Circuit Judge David Lee Vincent III ruled on May 1 that section 167.131, RSMo, the transfer law upon which the Turner vs. Clayton decision relied, was unenforceable in the Jane Turner/Gina Breitenfeld case as it violates the limitation of the Article X or "Hancock" limitation that the state may not require a new or increased level of activity or service without providing full state funding for that activity or service. The judge also concluded that it would be impossible for St. Louis Public Schools and receiving county districts to comply with the law under the forecast transfer of more than 15,000 students from St. Louis City to county schools, and thus the law is held to be void.
If the decision stands, it appears to remove the need to seek a legislative change to restore local control regarding the enrollment of non-resident students seeking to transfer from unaccredited districts, at least as it relates to students transferring from St. Louis City and perhaps from other unaccredited districts. MNEA supported legislative efforts to enact remedies to the problem.
The House passed SS/SCS/SB 576 (Bill Stouffer) regarding expansion of charter schools and charter school accountability and transparency without change and the bill has been printed and delivered to the Governor for his approval or veto.
MNEA opposes expansion of charter school territory or sponsorship until charter schools are shown to meet the same standards of accountability, transparency and respect for the rights of students, parents and staff as are applicable to district schools. The Association opposes creation of the new state charter commission and believes charter schools should not be operated by for-profit management companies. Too often, these companies place profits ahead of the interests of students.
SCHOOL FORMULA STABILIZATION STALLED
MNEA believes adequate and equitable school funding is a fundamental right for every student. The state must invest in classroom priorities that build the foundation for student learning: early childhood education, smaller class sizes and a well-rounded education that will prepare students to compete in the worldwide economy.
State funding has fallen to less than 30 percent of total school funding, while districts now provide about twice that much. Missouri’s average teachers’ salary ranks 49th in the nation, and the state’s total teaching staff dropped by more than 2,000 last year. The state is no longer even meeting the funding requirements of its own funding law, and in the 2012-13 school year and beyond, the sole impact of the cuts could fall on the most vulnerable, the so-called “formula” districts.
MNEA supported HCS/H.B. 1043 and Senate Committee Substitute/S.B. 454, but neither bill was enacted into law this session. Both bills revise the way the school funding formula will distribute funds to districts in the case where the formula is underfunded and seek to limit the most drastic year-to-year changes in state funding that could result if the state adequacy target is reduced by appropriation in Fiscal Year 2013 to reconcile the underfunding. Without clear legislative guidance, DESE will decide whether to prorate all districts next year or reduce funding only to “formula” districts.
BUDGET BILLS HELD HOSTAGE TO VETERANS FUNDING BILL
Several Senators held up the budget for several days with threats of filibuster unless certain concessions regarding the budget and other legislation were made. However, The House and Senate eventually passed the FY 2013 budget May 10, one day before the Constitutional deadline. The conferees agreed to roughly flat funding of the school funding formula, including an increase in formula funding of just over $5 million to a total of $3.009 billion.
Responding to the requests of senators who had threatened to block passage of the entire budget, the budget bills move $8.3 million for early childhood education from DESE (H.B. 2002) to the Office of Administration (H.B. 2005), phase out grants to current recipients, and require DESE to promulgate rules concerning implementation of the programs.
Funding for public higher education institutions will be held at current year levels, in part through lottery funds. Institutions must be aware that a portion of that institutional aid could be withheld during the next fiscal year if actual lottery proceeds fall short of the current estimates.
PROMPT STATE BOARD INTERVENTION IN UNACCREDITED DISTRICTS
State accountability systems and intervention in districts should focus on supporting and bringing the community together to better support schools. The State Board of Education recently decided to classify the Kansas City Missouri School District as unaccredited.
MNEA supported both House Committee Substitute/H.B. 1174 and SCS/S.B. 677, bills to revise the timelines and options for State Board of Education intervention when the board classifies a district as unaccredited. The bills allow the State Board of Education to consider possible changes in governance when classifying a district as unaccredited and remove the requirement to automatically lapse the district after two years.
H.B. 1174 was approved unanimously by both chambers, but in slightly different form. House leaders refused to take up and finally pass the Senate version of the bill in a cynical attempt to pressure the Senate to pass H.B. 1526 regarding tenure and layoffs.