JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri state Board of Education voted Friday to approve a plan to intervene in struggling school districts. It also sent the message that it will become more active in making sure districts adopt policies that will result in success.
The plan, revised from a draft version presented to the board last month, spells out various avenues of support that would be provided to or required of school districts depending on how well they score on their annual performance review.
“Normandy Strong” was the cry Saturday at a rally for supporters of the Normandy School District, whose future is uncertain after losing accreditation and bearing the tuition costs of students transferred to other districts.
Officials estimate the district will be bankrupt in April if millions of dollars in supplemental funding isn’t approved by the legislature. Supporters are hopeful that the district, currently unaccredited, can survive this school year and beyond.
The Missouri Senate has begun debate on legislation to lessen the effects of the state's student transfer law.
The wide-ranging bill attempts to address both the law and unaccredited districts. Provisions within Senate Bill 493 include accrediting individual school buildings instead of districts as a whole and creating regional authorities across the state to oversee transfers.
As Missouri education officials continue to gather public comment on what the state should do to help unaccredited school districts, one sentiment became clear Wednesday night:
The public needs to have a strong voice in whatever plans are adopted.
In the second of four hearings in the latest round of attempts by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to gauge public sentiment about a variety of plans put forth so far, about 200 people showed up at the J.C. Penney Auditorium on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The vote came a week before a new state law takes effect that will allow Missouri to move more quickly towards taking over unaccredited school districts. Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro says state officials will soon begin to heighten their presence in those districts.
Normandy schools had been under provisional accreditation for the past year, but had been “on thin ice,” in the words of State Board Member Peter Herschend (R, Branson). He says the district has again failed to meet the minimum nine out of 14 performance standards required for accreditation.
“If you look at the academic results in all of the core content areas, save one, they are at the bottom end of attainment," Herschend said. "Do I think that’s significant? You’re damn right I think that’s significant!”
The Missouri Supreme Court is deciding whether the Webster Groves school district must enroll a student from the city of St. Louis.
The court heard arguments Wednesday on a case related to Missouri law that allows students from unaccredited districts to transfer to accredited districts. State lawmakers are also considering how to implement or revise the law. Three school systems in St. Louis and Kansas City are unaccredited.