When Missouri lawmakers started their annual session in January, education reform got top billing and there were high hopes that major reform would be forthcoming this year.
Coming back from spring break this week, the mood of optimism is somewhat dampened as consensus seems out of reach on the critical proposals.
A major education bill still has not been cleared for debate by the full House because majority-party Republicans don’t yet have enough votes to pass it.
The bill would create a tax-credit program to help provide scholarships for students in unaccredited districts to attend private school, expand charter schools and eliminate tenure for future teachers.
The house education legislation is 62 pages and Tishuara Jones, one of the sponsors of charter schools expansion efforts, justifies the consolidation of all education issues into one bill as a streamlining measure that will bring this number down. House Democrats however consider the all-inclusive bill to be offensive and believe that the issues involved are complex and important enough that they should be debated separately.
Asked about disagreements with the measure, House Speaker Steven Tilley ticked off nearly every provision: student transfers, funding formula changes, student scholarships and teacher tenure.
The major objections to the package in its current iteration appear to focus on the student scholarship portion, which critics charge is as a way to allow public funds to flow out to private schools, further weakening the existing public school system. The Missouri School Boards Association, which is in general favor of most of the package, is campaigning for the bill to be defeated because of the offending student scholarship portion.
The threat of not being able to pass any education legislation this session is of particularly immediate concern to Missouri legislators as two issues are seen as urgent priorities: they wish to modify an existing law that requires unaccredited districts to pay to send students to accredited schools out of fear that this will bankrupt such districts, and they need to overhaul the state funding formula in light of money distribution problems under the existing system that cause some districts to benefits at the expense of others.