Missouri House education panel examines virtual school logjam

In this Feb. 25, 2021 photo, State Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, speaks on the Missouri House floor.
In this Feb. 25, 2021 photo, State Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, speaks on the Missouri House floor.

Confusion abounded in a Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee hearing about a virtual school bill that its sponsor said passed last year but wasn't carried out as intended.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, shepherded last year's legislation that allowed parents to enroll students in virtual school with a third-party provider and removed the requirement for district permission for a student to attend virtual school. However, he said, the way the bill was carried out wasn't what he expected.

"In my opinion, and in the opinion of some other folks, the rules that were generated as a result of our legislation did not quite capture what we intended in the language we originally filed," he said.

HB 827 is intended to fix those things, Christofanelli said. The main thing is that the bill clarifies that parents would approach districts working with virtual programs to begin the enrollment process, not their current resident district.

"The goal is that there would not be a unilateral veto on the sending school district," he said.

Virtual education providers testified in favor of the bill.

After hearing that some virtual providers had not been paid yet this year, lawmakers asked why.

The funding is based on the virtual school's current enrollment, but the education department didn't have a mechanism for getting monthly enrollment numbers. Resulting confusion over lack of data has caused delays in payments, though those could be out in the coming months, said Jerry Hobbs of the Stride Corporation, an education provider.

Mike Harris of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the host district will have to give DESE an estimate of how many students are in their virtual programs. Harris said none of the districts hosting virtual education vendors have sent the data to the department.

"OK, I'd like to have an opportunity to meet with you. I'd like to bring both parties together, cause I'm seeing a lot of shaking heads out there that are saying perhaps, maybe there's a miscommunication or something, but I don't think it's a viable option for us to continue down this road indefinitely," said Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, as he looked around the room.

Committee Chair Brad Pollitt said he would be willing to join the meeting to see if the issue can be resolved.

The committee also heard HB 809, sponsored by Rep. Michael O'Donnell, R-St. Louis, which would create a committee to look at what curriculum should be included in high school personal finance courses and require a 10-year review for academic performance standards for the course. The bill received support from financial associations.

The committee also voted to pass HB 70, which would allow other school personnel besides teachers to be designated as school protection officers.

HB 827: Modifies provisions related to the virtual school program


Sponsor: Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters

HB 809: Requires the department of elementary and secondary education to develop a curriculum on personal finance to be used by school districts


Sponsor: Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R-St. Louis

HB 70: Modifies provisions relating to school protection officers


Sponsor: Rep. Chris Dinkins, R-Lesterville


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