Education committees consider bills on Missouri school transportation, four-day weeks

Missouri lawmakers looked at outside-the-box approaches to student transportation and rules for four-day school weeks Wednesday.

The House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education considered HB 2423, sponsored by Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall, which would solve a problem he sees in the background check process around school transportation.

Some transportation networking companies provide rides for children without a consistent place to sleep at night to get to school--Gregory compared the companies to an "Uber for kids."

However, state law prohibits these companies from doing their own fingerprint background checks on drivers. Instead, the companies must ask the school to do the checks, which can be expensive. Gregory's law would allow the companies to pay the costs themselves.

One such company, HopSkipDrive, spoke in favor. The company uses caregivers such as nurses, retired teachers and grandparents to arrange transportation for students who may be moving from house to house each night. The company currently works in Kansas City and St. Louis and uses vehicles that seat seven or fewer.

Several lawmakers expressed their support for that part of the bill, calling it a "common sense, logical fix" and saying it would help get homeless students to school.

Gregory's bill also contained a provision to change the definition of a school bus from a vehicle that carries 11 or more passengers to a vehicle that carries 16 or more. He said some districts have contacted him saying that they would like to use 15-passenger vans to transport students to activities, and 10-passenger vehicles are no longer possible to find.

Lawmakers were unsure if that would be prohibited by federal regulations, which may prohibit 15-passenger vans. Gregory said he was looking into the regulations.

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, asked whether the vans would have safety measures like a crossing arm, stop sign, labeling or driver emergency training.

Gregory said he was looking into requirements. The committee did not take action on his bill Wednesday.

Over in the Senate Select Committee on Empowering Missouri Parents and Children, lawmakers heard a bill dealing with the length of the school term.

SB 784, sponsored by Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, requires districts in charter counties or cities with more than 30,000 people to seek voter approval before moving to a four-day school week. It also sets the minimum length of the school year at 169 days for five-day schools and 142 days for four-day schools.

Schools that have a five-day school week can receive 2 percent of their state aid entitlement yearly to increase teacher salaries under the bill.

"This bill is filled with a lot of carrots. There are no sticks," Beck said.

The only provision of the bill that garnered opposition was a provision allowing schools with a term of 175 days or more to start school earlier than the typical starting date, which is usually two weeks before Labor Day.

Larry Helms, executive director of the Missouri RV Parks and Campground Association, spoke in opposition.

Tourism is heavily impacted by school start dates, he said. When Missouri mandated that the school start date be no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day, businesses saw a positive impact. In the outdoor hospitality industry, there are only about 15 weekends from May until August in which business owners can make a living for the year, Helms said. Shortening this season would have a negative impact on the bottom line and would cause hiring troubles because many employees are students.

Robert Bass, an outfitter from Steelville, testified that the time around Labor Day is crucial for such businesses. And the zones outlined in the bill--population centers with more than 30,000 inhabitants--are the primary customers.

"I can recite zip codes," he said.

The committee did not take any action on Beck's bill Wednesday.

Read the full documents:

SB 784:

HB 2423:

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