Missouri lawmakers propose changes to education system

By Jordan Shapiro

JEFFERSON CITY – Led by Missouri’s lieutenant governor, a group of House Republicans and a couple of Democrats called for making it tougher for public schools teachers to earn tenure that protects them from being fired.

The Monday announcement comes as National School Choice Week officially begins. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder pledged his support to the proposals, saying “enough is enough” when it comes to poor public school performance.

The bipartisan group included two St. Louis Democrats, Rep. Jamilah Nasheed and Rep. Tishaura Jones, who joined the call to reform education. Nasheed said it was “an indictment on society” to continue letting Missouri’s schools operate in their current state.

Despite the Republicans’ insistence that the changes are bipartisan, Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, cautioned that the proposals may not have support across the aisle.

“Not necessarily everyone up here is endorsing each of the ideas we talk about today,” Dieckhaus said, “but the folks behind me do recognize that something needs to be done and that we do need to shake-up our education system.”

The push for new proposals stems from growing concern over the condition of the state’s two metropolitan school districts, Kansas City and St. Louis.

“Now you know and I know that if [students] are not being educated, they are going to be incarcerated,” Nasheed said.

The lawmakers first proposal promises to change the tenure system. The proposed bill would change the way teachers are evaluated for tenure. The new evaluation format would include a combination of student performance and other guidelines set by the teacher’s local district making it tougher for teachers to achieve tenure. The new system would also hold school district administrators accountable by changing their evaluation format to include teacher performance.

“The teacher tenure system I believe is broken in the state of Missouri, I think it is and has been a hindrance to educating children in the way they deserve to be educated,” said Dieckhaus.

But one long-time educator in Missouri’s House disagreed.

“There is a peace of mind that comes with the comfort of tenure that allows teachers to try new ideas,” said Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield.

Lawmakers also promised to introduce a bill eliminating what critics call social promotion, the practice of promoting a low achieving student to the next grade solely to keep up with peers. Rep. Cole McNary, R-St. Louis County, said the proposed bill would include provisions for extra reading practice and address the growing concern that student literacy levels are below standards upon grade completion. Nasheed echoed McNary, calling the current system “damaging to the fabric of education.”

Other proposals laid out include Jones’ call for the expansion of charter schools. Jones stressed that the proposed bill would “add another tool in the toolbox” for struggling school districts. Additionally, Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-St. Louis County, pledged to refile Bryce’s Law from previous sessions. Bryce’s Law would allow a scholarship tax credit for children with autism. Scharnhorst said the bill would allow children to “fulfill their promise.”

These proposals will be filed by the end of this week or early next according to Dieckhaus. As Missouri lawmakers move forward to address these proposals, Kinder said he sees promise in their success.

“Better and more school choice has more momentum and more strength then we’ve ever seen in the 18 years I’ve been in this building,” Kinder said.