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Lawmakers See Little Hope for Education Bill

One provision of the legislation would allow accredited school districts, like Webster Groves and Kirkwood, to establish guidelines for accepting transfer students.

Area lawmakers expressed doubts that a currently stalled education reform bill will make its way out of the state legislature at a breakfast meet-and-greet hosted by the and school districts.

About 45 citizens gathered to hear the legislators speak Saturday at , and most of the morning was taken up by a question-and-answer session. 

At the heart of the conversation was House Bill 1740, which in its current form contains a provision that would allow accredited districts to establish guidelines for accepting transfer students from unaccredited districts.

The measure is intended to address a potential influx of students from unaccredited schools, like the St. Louis Public School District, to surrounding districts as a result of the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling in last year’s .

While State Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) described the so-called “Turner fix” as having broad support, he said the bill is mired by more controversial education reforms attached to the legislation.

State Representatives Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) and Jeanne Kirkton (D-Webster Groves) also attended the meeting, and all three lawmakers rated the bill’s passage in its current form as unlikely.

“This is the dynamic that really exists: In exchange for the Turner fix that we all want to see — which should happen, there's no excuse for us not dealing with that issue — what sort of reform measures go along with it?” Schmitt said. “That's a really hard question to answer."

The lawmakers also cited the divisive nature of today’s politics as an impediment to progress. Stream said the house leadership was determined to get through some reforms, and Schmitt decried what he sees a lack of ability for legislators to compromise.

“I wish they could be dealt with separately and pass or fail on their own merit,” Kirkton added.

So you say you want a reform?

In addition to the "Turner fix," the bill includes an adjustment to the state’s funding formula that would deliver districts roughly the same amount of money as last year. The formula has fallen short of its targeted funding levels for several years and could correct the shortfall by pulling funds from some districts at the expense of others.

Schmitt said he strongly supports the adjustment because otherwise the formula would go back on its promise to neither increase nor decrease funding levels for districts such as Webster Groves and Kirkwood, which are deemed to be “hold-harmless,” meaning having a steady financial base.

“The only plan that is on the table right now is to shift $60 million from hold-harmless districts," Schmitt said. "I think that is incredibly unfair.” 

Other provisions in the bill include an expansion of charter schools, eliminating tenure for new teachers and a tax credit to help pay for students in failing to districts to attend private schools.

The lawmakers noted that each one of these proposals has an argument against it. Stream listed rural districts' fear of the growing reach of charter schools and teacher unions’ opposition to taking away tenure as examples.

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