Missouri lawmakers pushing for education policy changes in upcoming session
Education advocates are asking Missouri lawmakers to address a long list of issues affecting schools in the upcoming legislative session, from charter school funding to how to spend federal coronavirus relief money.
The session begins on Jan. 5, and lawmakers have prefiled more than 140 bills related to education issues.
“I think education is going to play a prominent role in the legislative session,” said Brent Ghan, deputy executive director of the Missouri School Boards Association.
Lawmakers have prefiled bills addressing COVID-19 protocols, school board elections, a parents’ bill of rights and hot-button curriculum issues like how race and history are taught in schools.
Lawmakers are coming up on a deadline to use almost $2 billion in federal funding for education. They must pass an appropriations bill by March 24 to use American Rescue Plan Act money set aside for schools.
“I know that our school boards and administrators across the state are anxiously awaiting approval of that money that could be used for COVID-related expenses that school districts are experiencing,” Ghan said.
The funding could be used to address trauma and homelessness among students in schools, said Matt Davis, secretary of St. Louis Public Schools’ Board of Education and chair of the district’s legislation and advocacy committee.
“It's money that's desperately needed to counter some of the effects of learning loss as the result of the pandemic,” Davis said. “It's going to cost Missouri nothing. All they need to do is do their job and pass the appropriation legislation.”
Legislators also prefiled bills related to funding of charter schools and the places where charter schools are allowed to operate, with language similar to that of bills filed last year.
There is legislation that would change the amount of funding charter schools receive. Missouri’s funding formula for charter schools is based in part on 2005 tax information, said Douglas Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Public Charter School Association.
“Since that time, while the local school district is being compensated using current-year revenues, charter schools are still being compensated using 2005 revenues,” Thaman said. “That's led to an underfunding and inequity of funding for charter public school students in the state.”
St. Louis Public Schools’ legislation and advocacy committee is opposed to any changes to how local funding is calculated, Davis said.
“What these bills are trying to do is to take away the funding from SLPS and divert them to charter schools, without then reconfiguring the state funding mechanism to make up for that,” he said. “That's funding that we desperately need to serve all our students in the city.”
Thaman said there is also a push to expand where charter schools are able to operate. Currently, the schools are allowed in St. Louis, Kansas City and districts that are not fully accredited.
The St. Louis Public Schools Board of Education and the city’s Board of Aldermen are both calling for a moratorium on new charter schools in the city until a comprehensive plan for schools has been passed.
Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke