After traveling the state to get feedback from educators and community members, the Missouri House Interim Committee on Education has released its final report.
Among the recommendations is a tuition limit for what an unaccredited district pays when a student transfers to an accredited district in the same or adjoining county.
(Go here for an FAQ on student transfers)
“At this point, with large-scale student transfers in process and pending, it is clear that the sending district cannot make fiscal plans with any level of confidence when tuition can vary by nearly 100%,” according to the report.
Under the weight of student transfers, the uncredited Normandy School District in north St. Louis County may become insolvent this spring. The district has made more than 100 staff reductions, including teachers, and closed an elementary school to cut costs. The other unaccredited district in north St. Louis County, Riverview Gardens, could run into financial trouble next school year because of costs related to student transfers.
The committee’s vice chair Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, isn't sold on the idea of a tuition cap for tuition for transfer students and said that it could be unfair to receiving districts.
“Why would you charge less to educate a student who’s not one of your local students because you’re not getting in local tax money, local effort to pay for that student’s education?” Rowland said.
In contrast, committee member Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, said the chaos that would come from a district going bankrupt outweighs the possible fiscal pain of setting tuition limits for transfer students. Without a maximum dollar amount for tuition, she said the transfer law is unsustainable.
“We can debate about what that reasonable amount is,” McNeil said. “But, it certainly cannot be any more than what an unaccredited district receives in state funds and local funds.”
While they may disagree on a tuition limit for student transfers, both Rowland and McNeil are on the same page with the report’s recommendation that lawmakers look for ways to funnel more state dollars toward early childhood education.
“This is an age when we can have some influence on a child’s education,” Rowland said. “If they are kindergarten ready when they enter school, they are going to do a better job through 13 years of education in the public school system.”
McNeil said the evidence clearly shows the importance of ensuring children get off to a good start.
“There are studies that show that the mind of a two-year-old has as many synapses as an adult,” NcNeil said. “At about six-years-old, the brain starts to pare away on those branches that are not used a lot. If the brain decides that the linguistics branch is underused it may start paring away on that, and from then on it will be a double challenge for that child to learn the verbal skills and communication arts skills that are needed.”
The report also recommends an overall increase in learning time for students, “especially for struggling students and struggling districts.”
The report notes that students with the greatest gaps in learning are often the students who regress the most when not in school.
“A longer day or a calendar that minimizes out-of-school periods so that a student does not have to spend the first six weeks of the fall term making up ground lost over the twelve weeks of summer vacation can be a crucial part of getting to better academic achievement for all students,” according to the report.
The 22-member committee collected feedback at 11 locations and submitted its report to Missouri Speaker of the House, Tim Jones, R-Eureka.
Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd