Administrators of Catholic schools threw their support Tuesday behind a proposal that would allow students in failing public schools to receive scholarships for private schools subsidized by state tax credits.
The plan to revamp the way Missouri deals with unaccredited schools drew a large crowd to the Senate General Laws Committee, which heard testimony from a variety of public and private school administrators, teachers, parents, politicians and even military recruiters.
Besides authorizing tax breaks for tuition scholarships, the legislation would allow the state to more quickly intervene in unaccredited districts and would require the geographic territory of many unaccredited districts to be split among neighboring school systems. The proposal also would expand access to public charter schools in unaccredited districts.
The proposal comes as the state is grappling with how to deal with the Kansas City School District, which recently lost its accreditation. The St. Louis School District also has been unaccredited for several years and is now being governed by a special board.
Sponsoring Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, drew support for her legislation Tuesday from superintendents in several suburban Kansas City school districts and from administrators of Catholic schools in both the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, who said they could provide a safe and quality education at a lower cost than the state. Among those testifying for the bill was an eighth grader named Yak Nak from Holy Cross Catholic School in Kansas City, who praised the education he was receiving there.
"Please allow the students like ours a chance," said Leon Henderson, president of Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School in St. Louis, a Catholic school. "Allow them a chance to choose a caring educational environment such as ours."
But Steve Green, the interim superintendent of the Kansas City School District, urged lawmakers to give him a chance to turn around the failing district instead of splitting it into pieces.
"It would be a shame for an annexation to occur," Green said. He added: "You're looking at a district that is on the road to accreditation."