Senators debate school transfer bill

The Missouri Senate began floor debate Tuesday night on a bill to fix the student transfer law that has wreaked havoc on unaccredited districts in St. Louis and threatens Kansas City schools and nearly a dozen provisionally accredited districts across the state.

Senate debate continued into the night, and lawmakers adjourned without reaching a final vote.

On the floor, the Senate stripped language that would have terminated teacher contracts once a school became unaccredited and debated at length an attempt to remove a separate provision that would allow students in unaccredited districts transfer to private schools paid for by local public funds.

The bill brought to the floor was passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday with the support of all members but one and included provisions from a handful of bills the committee has considered since the beginning of the session.

The legislation ran into early speed bumps on the Senate floor over the provisions in the bill to terminate teacher and other personnel contracts after schools became unaccredited and allow students in unaccredited districts to transfer to private, nonsectarian schools.

The Senate approved an amendment to strike the teacher termination language from the legislation. It passed 19-6. But some senators worried the loss of the provision would hamstring officials from addressing the underlying problems with struggling schools.

“We need to make sure the administrators have the flexibility to move people around and put critical people in critical spots to get the job done,” said Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit. “We are addressing part of the problem, but we are not addressing the problem — we are coming up with a partial solution”

Other senators said the issue of removing failed teachers in struggling schools was one that needed to be answered.

“We still have not addressed the need to deal with teachers that have been ineffective,” said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City. “Some teachers that have been on personal improvement plans for years, those teachers need to go.”

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, offered an amendment to remove the provision of the bill that allows students in unaccredited districts transfer to private, nonsectarian schools. It faced stiff opposition from senators o both sides of the aisle that argued the provision offered local choices to students in struggling districts.

“If we are concerned about children being able to learn and be productive members of society. … we will offer them a choice,” said Sen. Chappelle-Nadal, who got the provision added to the committee bill before it was sent to the floor.

Holsman argued that allowing local public funds to be used in private schools was a major divergence in education policy for the state and was concerned the bill did nothing to compel the private schools except the transfers.

“I believe public dollars should be spent in public schools,” Holsman said. He added that private schools have “no oversight for how public dollars would be spent.”

Holsman painted the issue as one of fundamental importance to him: “I think what we are looking at here is the age old question since I have been in this body,” he said. “Does bleeding the public resources to private schools make it better for all kids?”

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SB493 and its status

The Associated Press contributed information for this story.

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