A bill promising “local control” for some school districts prompted lawmakers and voters to ask the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to step back.
The Senate Committee Substitute for SB 85, sponsored by Senator Jill Carter, R-Granby, would allow districts that receive 60 percent of their funding from local sources to be designated “local control” school districts and be exempt from some reports on DESE performance requirements and the Missouri Assessment Program.
Senator Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, asked how schools could be accredited without providing some of this data to DESE.
Carter said many states use nationally recognized third-party organizations.
Those who spoke out in favor of the bill were frustrated with DESE, but Sen. Doug Beck D-Affton said DESE was simply following the mandate given by the law.
Maryam Mohammadkhani, a physician and Springfield R-12 school board member, cited an example of “one of the major burdens DESE places on districts.”
Mohammadkhani said the “early and excessive” use of the technology required, particularly because all standardized tests are done electronically, leads to negative outcomes for young children, including harmful impacts on sleep, vision and development.
“DESE was designed to inform and support, but now it controls and prevents,” he said. “With this bill, you put districts in the driver’s seat and level this playing field by letting public schools compete to be the parents’ choice.”
Mohammadkhani said his district would qualify for the replacement version of the bill.
Neosho High School teacher Jason Cramer said final exams don’t allow him to work with his students to help them improve based on their performance.
“What’s the point of the final exam if there’s nothing I as a teacher can do about that exam once it goes on?” he said. “It just gives the impression that these exams are all about making bureaucrats feel better about themselves and giving themselves a pat on the back.”
The Missouri National Education Association also testified about the bill.
MNEA legislative director Otto Fajen said teachers are looking for opportunities to use their creativity in the way they teach.
“And a lot of our teachers are finding that they feel so limited, they’re like, ‘This is really not what I thought it was going to be,’ and so they don’t stay in the profession,” she said. “I guess our only request would be, do we consider doing this for all districts rather than just a certain set of districts.”
No one has spoken out against the bill.
The committee also voted to approve a replacement for SB 5, an open enrollment bill that would allow students to attend school in a nonresident school district. He also passed SB 81, which would allow parents to enroll their children in a different school and target state aid to that school.
The committee also heard a voluntary patriotic education bill for teachers sponsored by Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, which she says would encourage a true “love of country.” MNEA spoke in favor of the bill, while Heather Fleming of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership spoke against, saying history and civics courses are already required to graduate and she was concerned about the definition of “patriotic.”
“For some people, being patriotic means never criticizing, never saying anything negative about our country, which is propaganda, but for other people, it’s about exercising our rights,” he said.
SS 85: Provides for the designation of local control school districts
Sponsors: Sen. Jill Carter, R-Granby
SS 5: Allows enrollment of non-resident students in public school districts
Sponsors: Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester
SS 81: authorizes parents to choose the school their children attend
Sponsors: Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold