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Senate education testimony includes local voices

Senate education testimony includes local voices

March 14th, 2018 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Testimony in the Missouri Senate on Tuesday about a bill to require school districts to have an appeals process for decisions about admission to programs for gifted students included local insight.

"I do see this as an equalizer," Ruthie Caplinger told the Senate Education Committee about House Bill 1371.

Caplinger is an Exploration, Enrichment and Research teacher at Jefferson City Public Schools' Southwest Early Childhood Center. EER is the local program for gifted students — students from the JCPS district or parochial schools served through the program, who qualify with high IQs and show high potential in reading and math.

HB 1371, sponsored by state Rep. Chrissy Sommer, R-St. Charles — who said both of her children are students in gifted programs — would require any district with a state-approved gifted education program "shall have a process, approved by the board of education of the district, that allows parents or guardians to appeal a determination that their child does not qualify to receive services through the district's gifted education program."

School districts are not required to have programs for gifted students but may develop them when "a sufficient number of children are determined to be gifted and their development requires programs or services beyond the level of those ordinarily provided in regular public school programs," according to state statute.

"I call it an appeals process," Sommer said of what her bill would establish. If a student is deemed to be ineligible for a gifted education program, she explain, the mechanism created by her bill would at least entitle parents to be told why.

The bill does not entitle parents to a specific remedy in the event they are told a reason they don't accept, but Caplinger said just demanding districts have the dialogue with parents is an improvement.

She said parents who have professional experience and have a gifted student often will advocate for their child, but parents in the same position who might not have graduated high school, for example, can be hesitant about challenging authority.

St. Joseph Cathedral School fifth-grader Maddy Larkin and her father also testified in support of Sommer's bill.

Otto Fajen, legislative director of the Missouri National Education Association, said the MNEA supports Sommer's bill.

There was no opposition testimony to the bill voiced Tuesday.

In executive session, the Senate education committee voted to pass several bills, including HB 1606, sponsored by state Rep. Elaine Gannon, R-DeSoto. The committee heard testimony last week on that bill, which proposes to have the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education subsidize the costs for first-time takers of the High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET.

The bill's fiscal note was reported to be $1.5 million, which DESE Senior Policy Advisor Michael Harris told the committee is based on the average figure that 15,000 people in Missouri take the HiSET for the first time every year.