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Missouri Senate education panel considers local control measure

by Anna Campbell | February 1, 2023 at 4:02 a.m.

A bill promising "local control" for some school districts prompted calls from legislators and constituents alike for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to take a step back.

The Senate committee substitute for SB 85, sponsored by Sen. Jill Carter, R-Granby, would allow districts that receive 60 percent of their funding from local sources to be designated "local control" school districts and be exempted from some of DESE's performance reporting requirements and the Missouri Assessment Program.

Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, asked how schools could be accredited without providing some of that data to DESE.

Carter said many states use nationally recognized third-party organizations.

Those that spoke in favor of the bill were frustrated with DESE, but Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, said DESE is simply following the mandate handed down by the law.

Maryam Mohammadkhani, a physician and member of the Springfield R-12 School Board, cited an example of "one of the main burdens placed on districts by DESE."

Mohammadkhani said the "early and excessive" use of technology that is required, particularly because all standardized testing is done electronically, leads to negative outcomes for young children, including harmful impacts to sleep, vision and development.

"DESE was designed to inform and support, but now it controls and impedes," she said. "With this bill, you put the districts in the driver's seat, and you even out this playing field, letting public schools compete to be the choice for parents."

Mohammadkhani said her district would qualify under the substitute version of the bill.

Neosho High School teacher Jason Cramer said end-of-year exams don't allow him to work with his students to help them improve based on their results.

"What's the point of the end of course exam if there's nothing I as a teacher can do about that exam once it moves on?" he said. "It just gives the impression that these exams are really nothing more than to make bureaucrats feel better about themselves and pat themselves on the back."

The Missouri National Education Association also testified on the bill.

MNEA Legislative Director Otto Fajen said teachers are looking for opportunities to use their own creativity in how they teach.

"And many of our teachers are finding they just feel so restricted, they say, 'This really isn't what I thought it was going to be,' and so they're not staying in the profession," he said. "I guess our only request would be, let's consider doing this for all districts rather than just a certain set of districts."

No one spoke against the bill.

The committee also voted to pass a substitute for SB 5, an open enrollment bill that would allow students to attend school in a nonresident school district. It also passed SB 81, which would allow parents to enroll their children in a different school and direct state aid to that school.

The committee also heard a bill on voluntary patriotic education for teachers sponsored by Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, which she said would encourage a true "love of country." MNEA spoke in favor of the bill, while Missouri Equity Education Partnership's Heather Fleming spoke in opposition, saying history and civics courses are already required to graduate and she was concerned about the definition of "patriotic."

"For some people, to be patriotic means to never criticize, never say anything negative about our country, which amounts to propaganda, but for other people, it is about exercising our rights," she said.

SB 85: Provides for the designation of local control school districts

Sponsor: Sen. Jill Carter, R-Granby

SB 5: Allows the enrollment of nonresident students in public school districts

Sponsor: Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester

SB 81: Authorizes parents to choose the school that their children attend

Sponsor: Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold


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