Category Archives: Education

An Open Letter to Gov. Jay Nixon

The following letter from Rep. Noel Torpey and myself was hand-delivered to Gov. Jay Nixon this morning.

May 19, 2014

Dear Governor Nixon,

In six years as governor, you have expressed a consistent willingness to reach across party lines on important issues. We write today to ask that you live up to your own words.

In fact, you’ve stressed the importance of working together in every State of the State address, “Unlike Washington, we’ve worked together like adults,” you said in 2012, “[N]o matter what part of our state we’re from, how we make a living, or what party we belong to.”

In 2013, you reminisced about your own time in the legislature, noting, “Republicans and Democrats didn’t agree on everything back then, just like they don’t now. We had a divided state government, with a Governor of one party, and the other party holding a large majority in the legislature – just like we do now. But we worked together to get things done for the good of the people.”

Just this year, you spoke about the great people of our state. “Here in Missouri,” you said, “folks don’t shy away from challenges – they work together to tackle them. Getting up early… working hard… staying late… and looking out for one another.”

We agree with your consistent message about the need to work together. In order to move forward on the most important issues facing our state, we believe it’s necessary to reach across the aisle and spectrum of political opinion. But doing so is never easy.

For example, over the past two years, you’ve made Medicaid legislation your top priority and repeatedly asked Republicans to put aside partisanship and ideology to move our state forward. And we have joined you to advocate for Medicaid reform and increased access to quality health care for the working poor.

As Republicans who think the ACA as a whole is terrible public policy, it was not easy for us to join you in this endeavor. It remains difficult for us to convince fellow Republicans to reach across the aisle to move this legislation which you clearly believe is the most important issue to face our state in decades. But we did it because we believe the cost of inaction is worse than the cost of taking action.

Just last week, the General Assembly proved it is still able to work across the aisle to pass difficult and controversial legislation which we believe is just as, if not more important than Medicaid. As you are well aware, the legislature Truly Agreed and Finally Passed Senate Bill 493 relating to school transfers with bi-partisan majorities in both chambers. Incredibly, the bill passed by a vote of 29-3 in the Senate and by the narrower margin of 89-67 in the House.

Together, elected officials from both parties, widely-divergent ideologies, and every area of our state made difficult choices and compromises to solve this problem and improve education in struggling school districts. In your words, we got up early, worked hard, stayed late, and got the job done.

Every legislator involved in the SB 493 process found something in the bill which they did not support. But, as responsible legislators, we realized that there’s always an excuse to vote against a bill. If you wait for perfect legislation on the big issues, you’ll never get there.

We understand that you have serious concerns about the private option portion of the bill. But we ask you to live up to your own ideals. Instead of insisting on a bill which is “perfect” to you, we ask that you read the bill as a whole. If you do, we believe you will find that the private option is only a small portion of the bill – a portion we believe is vital and necessary, but a small one nonetheless. Upon review of the bill, we believe you should come to the same conclusion as the bi-partisan, cross-ideological, trans-regional coalition of responsible legislators who made this bill a reality – it is an improvement over existing law.

Just as we stated on the House floor that Senate Bill 493 was a test to see if the legislature was still capable of passing big, difficult legislation in the era of term limits and 24-hour news cycles, so too is it a test for you. Either you truly believe in making the difficult decisions to transcend partisanship and ideology or you don’t. 

As you consider how you will act on SB 493, we ask that you consider the message you will send to the General Assembly regarding Medicaid. Just like Medicaid, we believe, in your words from 2009, “The solutions to our problems are within reach. And the only thing that can stop us is the same thing that always stops progress: a failure to listen, a failure to compromise, or a failure to walk a day in someone else’s shoes. By working together, we will tear down old barriers and tackle the challenges we face.”

We look forward to learning of your decision on SB 493 and hope that you live up to the ideals and rhetoric on bi-partisanship which you have so long espoused.

Yours in service,

 

Rep. Jay Barnes                                   Rep. Noel Torpey

Free to Choose a Better School

What would you do if you were a parent who lived in a failing school district and lacked the means to move? What would you want most for your child’s education? Would you want your child to have the same opportunities that children of wealthy parents have?

This week the Missouri House passed legislation designed to empower parents in struggling school districts to choose a better life for their children. Senate Bill 493, the so-called “transfer law fix,” aims to improve performance in struggling school districts through increased tutoring, enhanced early reading programs, and extended school days. It also gives the State Board of Education flexibility to take-over failing schools in failing school districts, and requires the State Board to proactively help struggling school districts improve test scores and other results.

The bill also seeks to save failing school districts from bankruptcy. Under the current transfer law, students in unaccredited districts have the right to transfer to any school district in the same or an adjoining county. The failing district is then forced to pay for 100 percent of the tuition costs at the receiving school. This sounds fair, but it’s not.

The current tuition costs bankrupt the failing schools and result in financial windfalls for the receiving schools. For example, Francis Howell, a receiving district, will receive twice as much tuition for transfer students than what it actually spent to educate those students. While the unaccredited Normandy school district struggles to remain solvent, Francis Howell will pocket over $1.4 million in profit this year. The House version of SB 493 sets the tuition rate at 70 percent of the sending district, which is more than enough to compensate the receiving district’s marginal cost of educating the transfer students.

Most importantly, the bill gives parents the freedom to choose the best school for their children. Under the current transfer law, every student in an unaccredited district is permitted to transfer out-of-district. This ignores the fact that not all schools in unaccredited districts are the same. In fact, some schools in unaccredited and provisionally-accredited schools are excellent or, at least, accredited.

SB 493 limits the right to transfer to those students who attend unaccredited schools. But it then opens a variety of options for parents. First, students in unaccredited schools are given the option to transfer to an open seat in an accredited school within their own district. After those seats are filled, students may transfer to any public school in the same or an adjoining county, to a charter school within their district of residence or, in St. Louis or Kansas City, to a private non-sectarian school near their home.

In my three years on the House Education Committee, I’ve heard the chorus of criticisms against proposals to provide poor parents who can’t afford private school tuition or to move to a better neighborhood with the freedom to send their children to private schools with public funds. In SB 493, we amended the private option to assuage all of those criticisms.

First, critics claim the option is unconstitutional. We fixed this potential problem by limiting the option to only those schools which are allowed to receive public funding under the Missouri and United States Constitution. The Blaine Amendment to the Missouri Constitution prohibits any public money from going to schools controlled by a religious denomination. As a result, parochial schools are eliminated from the program.

Second, critics claim the private option for St. Louis or Kansas City would harm education funding in the rest of the state. We fixed this potential problem by limiting funding for the private option to in-district funds. Under SB 493, the private option excludes state money.

Third, critics claim private schools will cherry-pick students for academic or athletic prowess. SB 493 strictly prohibits the transfer board from considering academic success, athletics, or poverty status in making school assignments.

Fourth, critics claim a private option would just lead to children who would otherwise be in private schools, siphoning money away from public schools. Despite the fact that this criticism treats private school parents and children as second-class citizens unworthy of equal benefits from their taxes, SB 493 requires students must have actually attended an unaccredited school before they are eligible to transfer.

Fifth, critics claim a private option is not fair because private schools are not subject to the same rules and regulations as public schools. We fixed this problem with an amendment to require all private schools which choose to receive transfer students to abide by every state statute and regulation that applies to public schools. Under this amendment, private option schools must give transfer students the same state assessment tests that are given to students in traditional public schools, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will produce an annual performance report on the private option schools as it does for traditional public schools.

Sixth, critics say it’s not appropriate to spend public money on private institutions when taxpayers voted for levies to go to public institutions. This argument ignores the fact that the state spends approximately $8 billion a year on Medicaid, much of which goes to private medical facilities. The House version of SB 493 deals with this criticism by subjecting the private option to a local vote. Before any student is allowed to transfer to a private school, it must be approved by the voters of the failing district at a general election.

With these changes, SB 493 addressed every substantive criticism against similar “private option” legislation that I’ve heard from defenders of the status quo in failing districts. But it’s still not enough, and it’s easy to see why: individual freedom is scary for people in power. Regardless of the issue in the capitol, those who hold power fight desperately to keep it.

Just as freedom brings fear to those in power, it brings hope to those to whom it is given. By allowing transfers from unaccredited public schools to nonsectarian private schools, SB 493 would allow children in poverty the opportunity to attend some of the same schools as the children of privilege. For some students, the choice may mean the difference between the American Dream and a life of poverty. With SB 493, the Missouri House chose the American Dream.

Explaining the Student Transfer Bill

How does this impact districts outside of St. Louis and Kansas City?

The bill only has minimal impact outside of the metropolitan St. Louis and Kansas City areas. The vast majority of provisions attempt to bring order and rationality to the chaotic transfer law in existing statutes. Nonetheless, there are a few provisions which have statewide impact:

1.      School Calendar from Days to Hours[1] – The bill converts the current statutory requirement of 174 school days to 1,080 hours of pupil attendance. This equates to approximately six more regular school days. But it also allows districts greater flexibility in how they meet this requirement. The effective date of this provision is delayed for an additional school year.

  1. School Limited to Four Days Per Week in June, July, and August; Mandatory Break for July 4[2] – The bill limits the school week to “no more than four days” in “any regular or summer school term scheduled for June, July, or August.” It also requires schools to have an entire week of break around July 4 if the holiday falls during the week, or at least 4 days if it falls on a weekend. The bill also requires a separate school board meeting if it chooses to start school more than ten calendar days prior to the first Monday in September.[3] The effective date of this provision is delayed for an additional school year.
  2. Transient Students Shall Not Count in First Year of Transfer[4] – The bill requires DESE to record and report each district’s “transient student ratio” – the measure of a district’s students who have been in the district for one entire year versus those who enrolled or left in the middle of the school year. It provides that statewide assessment scores for transient students shall not be included in a school or district’s annual APR score.
  3. Increased Minimum Teacher Salaries[5] – The bill increases the minimum teacher’s salary from $25,000 to $30,000, subject to appropriations, over a four-year period. For teachers with advanced degrees, the bill increases minimum salary from $33,000 to $35,000. To help pay for the cost of salary increases, this section creates the “Teacher Minimum Salary Fund” in the state treasury, which, subject to appropriation, shall be used to distribute appropriated moneys to schools for this purpose.
  4. K-8 District Tuition[6] – The provision clarifies that K-8 districts pay tuition only to accredited public high schools in another district in the same or an adjoining county.
  5. Allows Districts to Share a Superintendent[7] – The bill clarifies that two or more school districts may share a superintendent. This provision is identical to SB 701 which passed out of the Senate and the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education via consent.
  6. School District Financial Requirements When Formula Underfunded – The bill includes an amendment offered by Rep. Lyle Rowland in committee that is identical to HB 1111, which extends existing law excusing districts from professional development and fund placement requirements. HB 1111 was voted out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee by a vote of 16-1.
  7. Otherwise A+ Eligible Students Not Discriminated Against for Taking Virtual Classes[8] – The bill includes an amendment offered by Rep. Vickie Englund which clarifies that a student who is otherwise eligible for A+ cannot be made ineligible because they take virtual classes. This provision is identical to HB 1895, which passed out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee by a vote of 17-0.
  8. District Leasing of School Buildings[9] – The bill allows school districts to sell or lease buildings to other entities. It is identical to HB 783 from 2013 which passed out of the General Laws Committee by a vote of 13-0 with no testimony in opposition.
  9. Creates Standards for Reapportioning Local Tax Effort After Boundary Change[10] – Proposed §164.432 sets rules for the re-apportioning of local effort after a district boundary change.
  10. Establishes Parent Portal Fund[11] – The bill establishes the “Parent Portal Fund” to assist districts in creating a parent portal for patens to access educational information and their children’s education data.

How does the bill pro-actively help provisionally-accredited school districts?  

The bill requires the State Board to create assistance teams for borderline and provisionally accredited districts.[12] The members of these assistance teams will vary based on the needs of the district, but will include at least ten members, including teachers, principals, and at least one parent. The assistance team’s “suggestions for improvement shall be mandatory for provisionally accredited districts, but shall not be mandatory for borderline districts.” Provisionally-accredited districts can appeal to the State Board if it has an alternative method for improvement.

How does the bill help unaccredited districts improve?

  1. Increased State Board Flexibility in Unaccredited District[13] – Last year, we passed SB 125 to empower the State Board with greater flexibility for its intervention decisions in unaccredited districts. We permitted the State Board to choose not to conduct a full-scale takeover of an unaccredited district – or to allow the existing Board to stay in place if it took actions required by the State Board. This bill increases the State Board’s flexibility by allowing it to choose to only take-over a subset of schools within an unaccredited district. For example, the State Board could choose to appoint an S.A.B. for only the unaccredited schools within an unaccredited district – leaving the local elected board in charge of the remaining accredited schools. In addition, the bill requires that at least one member of an S.A.B. be appointed by the elected school board. It allows the State Board to appoint other members of the local elected board to an S.A.B., but provides that they shall not comprise more than 49 percent of the S.A.B.’s membership.
  2. Free Tutoring and Supplemental Education[14] – The bill requires unaccredited districts to offer free tutoring and supplemental education services to students performing below grade level using funds from a new “School District Improvement Fund” – which is to be made up of gifts, bequests, and donations, and may include appropriations.
  3. Early Reading Intervention[15] The bill requires the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts to create an early reading intervention program for students in kindergarten or first-grade who test below grade level in reading. These programs would requires the districts to create a personalized learning plan to improve the student’s reading performance. If the student is still not at grade level by the end of first grade, the school is required to assess the student for an IEP. If an IEP is deemed inappropriate, the student’s personalized learning plan shall continue until they are reading at grade level.
  4. Extended School Day[16] – The bill allows any unaccredited or provisionally accredited school district to increase the length of the school day or the annual hours of instruction. The bill also creates the “Extended Learning Time Fund” to help pay for the costs of extended school days in these districts. This provision is subject to appropriations.

How does the bill impact charter schools?

The bill seeks to encourage charter schools as an option for transfer students. It does so in the following ways:

  1. Increases Public Schools as Charter Sponsors[17] – The bill would allow any single or a combination of accredited public school districts to sponsor charter schools in unaccredited districts.
  2. Gives State Board Additional Time to Approve Charter Proposals[18] – The bill moves the date by which the State Board must approve a charter from December 1 to January 31.
  3. Ensures Due Process Rights for Charter Applicants[19] – Current law provides that the State Board “may, within sixty days” of a charter application “disapprove the granting of the charter.” Current law state that the State Board “may deny” a charter within 60 days of receiving a charter application. The bill clarifies that, if the State Board fails to act in that time period, the charter is deemed approved. If the State Board disapproves, the decision must be “in writing and shall identify the specific failures of the application.”
  4. Charter Schools Subject to Same Accreditation System[20] — The bill requires DESE to calculate an APR score for each charter school and to publish it in the same manner that it does APRs for traditional public school districts and schools.
  5. Streamlined Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools[21] – The bill encourages the expansion of high-quality charter schools by providing them “expedited opportunities to replicate and expand” in St. Louis, Kansas City, and unaccredited districts. Upon entering into a charter with a sponsor, the school is deemed approved by the State Board. This expedited process is limited to charter schools which (1) receive an APR of 75 percent of more for three of the last four years; (2) maintains a high school graduation rate of 80 percent if it operates a high school, (3) are in material compliance with existing performance contracts, and (4) are organizationally and fiscally viable.
  6. Allows Charter Schools to Accept Transfer Students[22] — The bill allows charter schools to charge the same tuition or fees that a traditional public school can charge or impose. In so doing, it permits charter schools in the same or adjoining counties to accept transfer students from unaccredited districts.
  7. The Bill Does NOT Create 10 Year Contracts for Charters -At least one education lobbying group is claiming the bill extends charter contracts from 5 to 10 years. That is NOT TRUE. The bill was amended in committee to keep that provision at 5 years.
  8. The Bill Does NOT Prohibit DESE from Closing a Charter If They are Underperforming -The same lobbying group is claiming that the bill prohibits DESE from closing underperforming charters. This claim is NOT TRUE. The provision in question was not intended to do what this lobbying group claims, and, to avoid any unintended consequences, was taken out of the bill in committee.
  9. Provides a Three-Year Financial Start-Up Period[23] — Current law includes a statute dealing with “charter schools experiencing financial stress.” The bill provides that this statute only applies to charter schools that have been in operation for three or more school years. This provision is needed because charter start-ups regularly take two to three years to develop a stable student base.

How does it impact school accreditation?

The bill moves the State Board from a system of district-level accreditation to a system with both district and individual school accreditation. It codifies the existing classifications of accredited with distinction, accredited, provisionally accredited, and unaccredited.

How does it ensure representation on the State Board for areas in which a potentially unaccredited school is located?

Before the State Board declares any district unaccredited, if there is no member of the Board from the congressional district in which the district is located, the State Board is required to inform the governor of its intent to change the classification at least thirty days before taking such action. This 30 day period will give the governor time to fill such a vacancy before the action is taken.[24]

How does the tuition work?[25]

Under current law, tuition is paid from the sending district to the receiving district at 100 percent of the out-of-district tuition rate set by the receiving district. The current ratio is bankrupting the sending districts and resulting in financial windfalls to the receiving districts.[26] This bill sets tuition at 70 percent of the sending district, regardless of the receiving district to which the transfer student is assigned. In addition, transportation shall be provided for by an additional amount equal to up to 10 percent of the sending district’s tuition.

Does this violate the Hancock’s prohibition on unfunded mandates?

No. The Supreme Court has ruled that the transfer law does not violate Hancock because (1) there’s nothing “new” or “increased” about requiring public education for eligible children, and (2) Hancock does not prohibit local-to-local burden-shifting of an existing activity or service. See Breitenfeld v. School District of Clayton, 399 S.W.3d 816 (Mo. 2013).

How may receiving districts determine classroom sizes?[27]

Under current law, there are no specific rules for receiving districts to set classroom sizes. A plain reading of the law leads to the conclusion that districts do not have any ability to limit transfers to protect reasonable classroom sizes. This bill clarifies that each potential receiving district “to establish by objective means and adopt a policy for class-size and student teacher ratios” which they “shall report” to the State Board for review. If the State Board approves of the class-size, the receiving district “shall not be required to accept any transfer students … that would violate its class-size or student-teacher ratio.” If the State Board finds that the district’s policy is “unduly restrictive to student transfers,” the Board may limit or revise implementation of the policy. In addition, no transfer shall require any receiving district to hire additional classroom teachers or construct additional classrooms.[28] It must also be noted that, contrary to the claims of at least one education lobbying group, the bill does NOT prohibit receiving districts from assuming future growth when calculating the number of available seats in their district.

How do the transfers work?

Under current law, every child whose parents live in an unaccredited district is eligible to transfer to an accredited district in the same or an adjoining county.[29] This bill provides that:

·         Transfer rights are limited to students who have attended an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district for at least one semester.[30]

·         Transfers are not allowed to other unaccredited or provisionally-accredited districts, but students may transfer to a provisionally-accredited school within their unaccredited district, if a slot is available.[31]

·         Students may transfer to (1) accredited schools within their home district, (2) accredited schools in accredited districts located in the same or an adjoining county, (3) charter schools located in the same or an adjoining county, or (4) non-sectarian private schools.

·         Parents have until April 1 to notify the transfer authority of their intent to transfer.[32]

·         The transfer authority makes transfer assignments only if (1) in-district slots are not filled organically through student or parent choice, or (2) available slots in any schools are over-subscribed. If in-district slots are not filled organically, the authority “shall ensure in-district slots are filled first.”[33] After these slots are filled, the authority shall make assignments according to the following rules:[34]

o   First priority is given to students within the same household so that they all attend the same school;

o   Transfer authority may deny transfer to student who has been suspended more than once in most recent school year or who has been suspended for an act of school violence. A student denied transfer for this reason has the right to an in-person meeting with a representative of the transfer authority.

o   If sufficient enrollment slots are available, each student gets choice of three schools to which they may transfer;

o   To the extent possible, the authority shall fill in-district seats first.

o   Transfer authority discretion to make assignments only occurs if (1) in-district slots are not naturally filled, or (2) a receiving school’s slots are over-subscribed.

o   If sufficient slots are not available within the district, transfer authority shall consider the following factors, with student or parent choice being most important:

1.      Student or parent choice

2.      Best interests of the student

3.      Length of residence in the district

4.      Student academic performance

5.      Student free and reduced lunch status, and

6.      Distance and travel-time to receiving school.

What happens when a sending district becomes accredited?

New transfers stop when a sending district becomes accredited. To ensure continuity, the students who have already started at new schools may continue to attend those schools through high school graduation.[35] Students are best served when they can keep the peer groups and relationships with teachers and other school officials where they are doing well, rather than shuttling them back-and-forth between schools.

Is the non-sectarian option constitutional?

Yes. In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court held that spending public moneys at St. Louis University did not violate Missouri’s establishment clause because the key question under Missouri’s constitution is “whether religion so pervades the atmosphere of the university that it is in essence under religious control or directed by a religious denomination. Mere affiliation with a religion does not indicate that a higher education institution is ‘controlled by a religious creed’ for purposes of Missouri’s establishment clause.” SLU v. Masonic Temple, 220 S.W.3d 721 (Mo. 2007). The House Committee Substitute keeps the Senate’s definition of non-sectarian school – that which is not part of the public school system, charges tuition, and “does not have a religious affiliation.”[36]

Does the non-sectarian option impact formula funds or accredited districts?

No. The non-sectarian option involves funds paid solely from the sending district’s operating levy in an amount not exceed the lesser of the non-sectarian school’s previous year’s tuition or 70 percent of the sending school’s tuition. As a result, this will have no impact on formula funding. Nor will it have any impact on accredited districts.[37]

Does the bill create three different systems of school classification?

No. The Senate bill created three systems by allowing charter schools to be accredited by their sponsors and setting no long-term accreditation standards for non-sectarian schools other than the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. Amendments to the bill have been made or will be offered which subject charter schools and the transfer students attending private schools under this section to be subject to the same A.P.R. scores as traditional public schools.



[1] Proposed §160.011(9) at 3 contains main change. Other changes are spread throughout the bill.

[2] Proposed §160.041.1 at 3.

[3] Proposed §171.031.3 at 60.

[4] Proposed §162.1303 at 31-32.

[5] Proposed §163.172 at 38-39.

[6] Proposed §167.131 at 39-40.

[7] Proposed §168.205 at 57.

[8] Proposed §162.1250.3 at 30.

[9] Proposed §177.011 at 26-27.

[10] Proposed §164.432 at 40.

[11] Proposed §170.320 at 41-43.

[12] Proposed §161.086.3 at 24-25.

[13] Proposed §162.081.3(2)(a) at 26-27.

[14] Proposed §167.685 at 40.

[15] Proposed §167.730 at 41-43.

[16] Proposed §171.031.8-9 at 59-60.

[17] Proposed §160.400.3(7)-(9) at 5.

[18] Proposed §160.405.2(1) at 11.

[19] Proposed §160.405.3 at 12.

[20] Proposed §160.405.15 at 18.

[21] Proposed §160.408 at 18-19.

[22] Proposed §160.415.11 at 22.

[23] Proposed §160.417.6 at 24-25.

[24] Proposed §161.084 at 24.

[25] Proposed §167.825.5 at 43.

[26] The real-world application of transfer finances are reported in “Money Being Paid by Normandy, River Gardens to Other Districts Not Being Spent,” a February article in the Post-Dispatch by Elisa Crouch, who summarized, “There’s little dispute that transfer students have created new financial burdens for the districts now paid to serve them. Like all students, they require art supplies, desks, textbooks, and even paper towels. But with few exceptions, the new students have been absorbed into existing schools without the need of more teachers and new classrooms.”  Of the 11 districts that received more than 90 percent of the transfer students, only 4 actually added new teachers and staff. Ferguson-Florissant hired 10 new teachers to help with 440 transfer students. Francis Howell, Pattonville, and Clayton added support staff – including reading specialists, teacher’s aides, substitute teachers, and after-school supervisors. Mehlville and Kirkwood increased funding for after-school activity buses.

[27] Proposed §167.826.6 at 45.

[28] Proposed §167.826.3 at 44.

[29] As a result, students who attend accredited schools within unaccredited districts have the right to transfer. In addition, disconnecting transfer rights from actual attendance at an unaccredited school encourages what Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal has called “educational larceny” – an act where (1) parents take transfer rights by moving into the geographical boundaries of the district for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the transfer law or (2) parents with children who were already in private schools take advantage of the transfer law to send them to a neighboring accredited public school district.

[30] Proposed §167.826.1 at 43.

[31] Proposed §167.826.2 at 44.

[32] Proposed §167.827.3 at 46.

[33] Proposed §167.827.4 at 46-47.

[34] Proposed §167.827.4 at 46-47.

[35] Proposed §167.826.9 at 46.

[36] Proposed §167.848(5) at 56.

[37] Proposed §167.828.2 at 47.

School-Based Health Clinics Work

On Monday, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability passed HB 1052, a bill to encourage the construction of school-based health care clinics in high-poverty school districts. Many other states, most notably Texas, have robust school-based clinic programs. The following is a memo from my Legislative Assistant Emily Walker summarizing research on these clinics. Conclusions: they work to save money, reduce unnecessary ER visits, and improve the health and education outcomes of students in schools where these clinics exist. 

To:       Representative Barnes

From:   Emily Walker

Re:       School Based Health Clinics

Date:   February 6, 2014

 

Question:        What are the value of School Based Health Clinics based on academic studies and real world data?

 

            School Based Health Centers (SBHCs) have developed in the past three decades as a solution to health care access problems in younger populations.  These in-school clinics help to “overcome utilization barriers in a way not previously documented in other clinical settings, even when serving populations that suffer from significant health disparities.”[1] Based on census data collected by the School-Based Health Alliance for 2010-2011, there were 1381 school based clinics that provided primary care and responded to the surveys.[2] SBHCs are found in a variety of communities: 54.2% in urban areas, 27.8% rural areas, 18.0% suburban areas.[3]  Of the responding clinics, 94.4% are located within school buildings.[4] The numbers of these clinics are growing and Missouri already has four located within our state.[5]

            There is no set funding or structured mechanisms for SBHCs.  Financing may come from a variety of sources and control comes from multiple levels (private sector, local government, state government, etc.)  Other states have successfully implemented these clinics on a state level.  Texas recently passed an expansion measure in 2009 to further support SBHCs.[6] HB 281 was a bipartisan bill passed unopposed in the House Public Education and Senate Education committees and signed into law by Governor Perry.[7]  This expansion of the program included stabilized and increased grant funding for the programs.[8]  According to the Census data collected by the School-Based Health Alliance, Texas had 87 school-based health clinics at the time of the survey.[9]

            There are many benefits to the school-based health clinic system.  These clinics have consistently shown decreases in emergency department visits, increases in primary care access, increases in immunizations, and better quality of health care for children who traditionally lack health care resources.  SBHCs knock down many of the barriers that children from high-risk families often battle, including: lack of private health insurance, transportation to appointments, parental absence from work, lack of awareness, and other stressors that keep children away from health professionals.[10] Not only do these programs give children access to health care, the ultimate goal of the clinics serves the ultimate goal of education programs.  As Adams and Johnson explain, “the program is aimed at improving school attendance and classroom performance and the longer-term prospects for these children as they mature”[11] 

            Numerous studies have found the cost saving measures that school-based clinics provide for public insurance programs. In Adams and Johnson’s article, An Elementary School-Based Health Clinic: Can it Reduce Medicaid Costs?, the authors answered the title question in the affirmative.[12]  This study compared children served by a school-based clinic to demographically similar children who did not have access to the same kind of clinic.[13]  There were no significant differences between the groups before the clinic opened, but two years after its opening, the children with access to the clinic had significantly lower instances of inpatient visits, non emergency department transportation, drug, and emergency department Medicaid expenses.[14]  These lower instances of high cost health care items meant that the school-based clinic helped to curb costly health care mechanisms for the children who had access to the SBHC.

            Another study also examined the affect of school-based clinics on the frequency of emergency department visits.  In Young, D’angelo, and Davis’ 2001 article Impact of a School-Based Health Center on Emergency Department Use by Elementary School Students, the authors wrote that emergency room visits are often non-urgent and have the negative effects of increasing medical costs and fragmenting health care.[15]  In their study, the authors examined elementary aged children (5-12) from an inner city neighborhood.[16]  The clinic served a school that had a student population of 95% of the population on free/reduced lunch and 60% African American/40% White.[17]  This study used a retrospective audit of emergency department records that compared the year before implementation of a school-based clinic to the year after its inception.[18] There was a significant drop in emergency room visits after the school-based clinic was introduced to the school.[19]  The results of this study show that SBHCs help to decrease non-urgent emergency department visits, and therefore the higher costs of these visits.

            Key, Washington, and Hulsey provided their findings of lesser emergency department visits by adolescents enrolled in SBHCs into their 2002 article, Reduced Emergency Department Utilization Associated with School-Based Clinic Enrollment.  This was another retrospective cohort study that examined emergency department utilization rates before and after adolescents enrolled in a SBHC.[20]  The subject school was an urban, public high school that’s student population was made up of 80% free/reduced lunch recipients and 99% African American.[21] The study showed a decrease in the emergency department visit rate for both groups from the base year, but this decrease was only statistically significant for the students who chose to enroll in the SBHC (enrollees had a 41% decrease of emergency room visits after enrolling in the clinic).[22]  The authors noted that because the study compared a population with prior emergency room use and then recorded the changes following the enrollment in a SBHC, the SBHC should be attributed as the cause of the decrease.[23]

            Beyond the scope of saving money on decreased emergency room visits, SBHCs serve other important interests as well.  One major benefit to note is the ability of SBHCs to help with vaccination rates in adolescents. In the article Addressing Adolescent Immunization Disparities: A Retrospective Analysis of School-Based Health Center Immunization Delivery, the authors performed a study to determine if SBHCs can improve rates of immunizations among at risk children and adolescent populations.[24] The study was a retrospective cohort analysis of children and adolescents who were split into groups that received health care from either a Denver SBHC or Community Health Center (CHC).[25]  For most types of vaccinations, children and adolescents were more likely to be up-to-date on their immunizations if they received health care from SBHCs.[26]  Along with this, for vaccines that require multiple doses over a set period of time, SBHCs were more likely to guarantee children received all doses.[27]  The authors noted a variety of reasons for why SHBCs are better for vaccinations, including: easier access to care, reminders to come back for care are easier, the tracking system is easier within the school system, many SBHCs see patients without any payment requirements, parents do not have to leave work, and students do not have to leave campus for the care.[28]

            Finally, a more recent study addresses all of the issues discussed above and the overall strong benefits of SBHCs.  In the article School-Based Health Centers: Improving Access and Quality to Care for Low Income Adolescents, the authors wanted to examine all of the advantages of SBHCs.[29] This was a retrospective cohort study that tracked the use of health care and markers of quality of care for adolescents enrolled in SBHCs compared to adolescents who used other community care entities.[30]  The SBHCs helped to increase uninsured adolescents access to care for primary health care.[31]  This increase in access to care through SBHCs led adolescents to report a higher likelihood to have three or more primary care visits, less emergency department visits, more health maintenance visits, and a higher likelihood to receive a flu vaccine, a tetanus booster, and a Hepatitis B vaccine.[32]  The authors of this study strongly established that SBHCs provide underserved adolescents and children with better access to care and an overall higher quality of health care than traditional community health systems do.

            There are multiple studies available to show the benefits of SBHCs to serve populations of children and adolescents that traditionally have not received quality health care.  These clinics have statistically shown they can reduce Medicaid expenditures through better preventive care measures, they increase immunization rates, and overall, they provide higher quality of care for a population that is often underserved.



[1] Steven Federico, et. al., Addressing Adolescent Immunization Disparities: A Retrospective Analysis of School-Based Health Center Immunization Delivery, 100:9 American Journal of Public Health,1630-1634 (2010).

[2] sbh4all.org, 2010-2011: Census Report of School-Based Health Centers, School Based Health Alliance, 2012, http://www.sbh4all.org/atf/cf/%7BB241D183-DA6F-443F-9588-3230D027D8DB%7D/2010-11%20Census%20Report%20Final.pdf (last visited February 6, 2014).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] tasbhc.org, Legislative Efforts, Texas Association of School-Based Health Centers, 2009, http://www.tasbhc.org/legislative-efforts/ (last visited February 6, 2014).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] 2010-2011: Census Report of School-Based Health Centers.

[10] Thomas Young, et. al., Impact of a School-Based Health Center on Emergency Department Use by Elementary School Students, 71:5 Journal of School Health, 196 (2001).

[11] E. Kathleen Adams and Veda Johnson, An Elementary School-Based Health Clinic: Can it Reduce Medicaid Costs?, 105 Pediatrics, 780-788 (2000).

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Young, D’angelo, and Davis.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Janice Key M.D., E. Camille Washington, M.D., Thomas C. Hulsey M.S.P.H., Sc. D., Reduced Emergency Department Utilization Associated with School-Based Clinic Enrollment, 30:4 Journal of Adolescent Health, 273-278 (2002).

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Mandy A. Allison, MD, MSPH, et al. School-Based Health Centers—Improving Access and Quality of Care for Law-Income Adolescents, 120:4 Pediatrics, 887-894 (2007).

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

Education Establishment Asks State Board to Pretend It Has a Magic Wand

On Tuesday, the state’s education establishment joined together to offer a “plan” to fix struggling schools in our state. Their plan is simple. It asks the State Board of Education to wave its magic wand and declare a struggling district cured through a simple administrative pronouncement. Here’s how it would work. Once the State Board declared a district unaccredited, the district could enter into a contract with the State Board promising to improve… and presto!, the district would magically be declared provisionally accredited.

This plan doesn’t require any evidence of actual improvement, and it makes a joke of the accreditation process. It changes the school accreditation process from one which requires accountability to one which perpetuates failure without consequence. It’s geared toward protecting existing power structures rather than ensuring substantive changes to improve the lives of Missouri families with students trapped in struggling schools. In addition, it arguably violates the letter of existing state laws and undoubtedly violates the intent of SB 125, the education reform bill I helped pass just last year.

In recent years, the State Board has shown it has the political courage to make difficult decisions regarding struggling districts, and it’s my hope that the Board will continue that tradition. 

Zip Code Should Not Determine Destiny

Increasing Opportunity for Low-Income Students
A child’s zip code should not determine their destiny. For more than two centuries, America has been the greatest nation in history because of the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. Indeed, Americans are the most free to realize their full potential through their own “pursuit of happiness.”The up-by-the-bootstraps story is fundamental to the American identity. Regardless of what you think of President Obama’s politics, his presidency is a living testament to upward mobility in America. The son of a Kenyan immigrant and a Kansas farm-girl, there aren’t many places in the world where a man with that background could become president. The same can be said of House Speaker John Boehner, who was born to a family of modest means. These stories are, of course, not limited to elected officials. Consider Missouri’s own Sam Walton, or Jack Dorsey of St. Louis, founder of Twitter, among other countless examples.Over the last 40 years, however, the American dream has been slipping away in some zip codes. A recent Harvard study found that children born in poverty in Kansas City and St. Louis are approximately 50 percent less likely to eventually earn a middle to upper-class income than their same aged peers born in poverty in mid-Missouri.Liberals see stats like these and oft ask how government can ensure an “equality of stuff.” The left’s solution is generally geared towards centralized power and a redistribution of wealth from cradle-to-grave to make society more equal. What the progressive often believes works best is more rules, more organization, and more government money.

Conservatives understand that inequality alone is not a bad thing. (In fact, recent history has shown that equality increases during a recession.) Economic activity is not a zero-sum game and “equality of stuff” is neither just nor possible. The world learned that lesson in the Cold War. The Soviet Union was perhaps the most unequal society in history – the vast majority of the population lived in poverty, while the politically powerful enjoyed the fruits of their connections. We know how the Cold War ended. To paraphrase Reagan, “We won. They lost.”

Conservatives, by contrast, ask how government can better ensure “equality of opportunity.” The best way to ensure equal opportunity is for government to create and enforce a basic framework of rules that empower citizens to reach their potential. And while increased inequality is not necessarily a bad thing if the entire economy is improving, social mobility matters.

The conflicting philosophies of conservatives and liberals is clear in the contrasting approaches to the challenge of education in high poverty neighborhoods. Liberals tend to focus on increased funding and more centralized control. Sometimes their logic seems more focused on buildings and protecting existing power structures than helping real-life children.

House Bill 1579, which I have sponsored, takes a more comprehensive and conservative approach to improving education in high-poverty struggling school districts. It does so by empowering families in these communities to choose the school which will work best for them – as they see it, not as someone else does. The bill would:

  1. Encourage the rapid expansion of high-performing charter schools;
  2. Create scholarships for students in low-income families to attend the same schools as students from wealthy families, on the condition that the school they choose abides by the same requirements as traditional public schools and agrees not to compel any scholarship recipient to attend a religious class or ceremony;
  3. Protect the freedom these families have under current law to choose a different traditional public school, but allows “receiving schools” to place reasonable restrictions on transfers to ensure there is enough classroom space to help; and
  4. Allow students to choose courses in virtual education as an alternative to brick-and-mortar schools.
Beyond protecting and increasing these families’ freedom to choose their own path, HB 1579 would help improve struggling schools by creating a fund to pay bonuses to high-performing teachers and a more equitable transfer funding formula to prevent potential bankruptcies.I anticipate that discussions on big education legislation this year will take a long and winding path. My focus will be on increasing opportunities for families in struggling districts to pursue their own happiness, and not be held back by the arbitrary silo of an unfortunate zip-code, and I’ll do my best to ensure that the principles and policies included in HB 1579 are included in any legislation that makes it to the finish line.

The Education Establishment Manufactures Fake Controversies After State Board and Dr. Nicastro Refuse to Endorse the Status Quo

If you follow Missouri education policy, you’ve heard about a few alleged controversies which has led to a trio of teacher’s unions and a handful of Democratic lawmakers to ask for the resignation of Dr. Chris Nicastro, the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Dr. Nicastro’s alleged wrongs? (1) Conferring with a group likely to place an initiative petition on next year’s ballot regarding teacher tenure – and recommending a changed suggestion to the fiscal note on the bill which was recently upheld by a Missouri court, and (2) refusing to allow the status quo in Kansas City to continue.

What you probably don’t know is the long backstory on this which exposes it for the farce that it is.

You’d think by the tone of their statements that the allegedly controversial meetings on the ballot initiative were only recently revealed to these unions. After all, if they’re so far out of line, it would make sense that the unions would cry foul right away. Turns out, however, that the unions have had them since early May.

So why would they wait nearly half a year before saying anything? Because they had a lot of issues to hang over Dr. Nicastro’s head over the last six months. 

  1. First, there was the decision whether to accredit the Kansas City schools or not. To the Board of Education and Commissioner Nicastro’s credit, the Board refused to allow the status quo to continue.
  2. Next there was the issue of what to do about transfers in the St. Louis area. Rumor has it there was a push for DESE to issue guidelines to effectively end the transfers. The Board issued some basic guidelines (in my opinion to help protect districts from themselves), but appropriately refused to attempt to change the law by bureaucratic fiat. 
  3. Then there is the ongoing issue of how to change the transfer statute. Rumor has it that the Establishment is pushing DESE and the Commissioner to stop the transfers via administrative rule – skipping right past the legislature, never mind the legalities of such a maneuver. To their credit, DESE and the Commissioner, I’m told, have said that wasn’t advisable or possible. 
  4. Finally, there was a lawsuit filed against the initiative petition on teacher tenure. The unions challenged multiple aspects of the initiative petition, including the fiscal note. On November 19, the teacher’s unions’ lawsuit was rejected by a Missouri judge. The very next day the Associated Press reported that unions were criticizing Nicastro for the meetings related to the initiative.

Connect the dots? Here’s how the unions want to pull this one off. First, gather the “evidence” early – and hold on to it. Next, see what you can do to get favorable decisions for your issues from your target. If things go your way, hold on to your trump card as long as you can. Who knows when you might need to use it? Then, and only if your target isn’t cooperating, go nuclear. Hopefully you get her removed. And if you do, you know her replacement will know who’s in charge here. It’s you. Any questions?

The criticisms of Dr. Nicastro are driven purely by the fact that she and the State Board have proven time-and-again-and-again-and-again that they have the backbone required to resist bowing to political pressure from special interest groups whose biggest interest is not the education of children but to oppose anything that endangers their monopolies of control over failing school districts.  

Much credit goes to State Board of Education President Peter Herschend for immediately defending Dr. Nicastro here and here.  Not everyone is going to agree with everything the Board or Dr. Nicastro does. At times, I’ve been a vocal critic of the Board. But all Missourians should be thankful for a Board of Education doing its best to deal with very difficult, if not impossible, issues – and proving by its actions that it won’t simply kowtow to special interests.  

Quick Thoughts on “Controversy” of State Official Giving Technical Advice on Ballot Initiative

The education establishment that puts adults ahead of children and blocks every education effort imaginable, and, in some cases, even agrees to stand-down on reform legislation and then turns around less than 24 hours later and changes their position, is atwitter over the fact that Commissioner Chris Nicastro met with, conferred, and maybe even advised a group seeking to place an education-related initiative on the Missouri ballot.

A few quick thoughts:

1. The Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is, per §161.020, is appointed by the State Board of Education. It seems there’s fairly widespread confusion on this. It’s not the typical way a director of state department is appointed.

2. We have a past history in Missouri of technical problems with ballot initiatives. For example, the minimum wage initiative inadvertently undid decades of overtime practices for firefighters and nurses – to the detriment of both labor and management – and the legislature had to come back later to fix it. A second example comes from the renewable energy mandate – which is a little bit different – but where proponents sold their measure as only costing one percent of current energy costs and then later completed the bait-and-switch by convincing the PSC to hold that one percent really means 11 percent. Because of these examples (and I’m sure there are more), I think directors of state departments impacted by ballot initiatives which could plausibly make it to the ballot ought to consult and advise proponents of those initiatives to help avoid unintended consequences. 

Troubling Social Promotion Policies in St. Louis Public Schools

State Auditor Tom Schweich released a report yesterday on St. Louis Public Schools. Two points worthy of quick note:

  • The district violated state law by regularly promoting students to the next grade level even if they can’t read. The P-D explains:

But what troubled Schweich the most is the district’s practice of moving children to the next grade level even though their reading skills are sub par. More than 2,000 students tested at the “below basic” level — the lowest performance category — in the 2011 and 2012 reading section of the Missouri Assessment Program. Yet just 158 and 128 students were held back those years, respectively. Holding back each child who is behind in reading, as mandated by state law, would be too costly, administrators told Schweich’s staff.

“I don’t know what the priorities are as far as finances go, but at least in our view students who can’t read should be the highest financial priority,” Schweich said in downtown St. Louis.

Rick Sullivan, president of the district’s state-imposed Special Administrative Board, said the retention issue was a tough problem to solve.

“The number of students who would be retained would be staggering,” he said. “But that’s the question people have asked for years and years.”

Social promotion might help the school’s finances in the short-run, but doesn’t help the kids – or the district – in the long-run. 

  • Schweich found the district did an inadequate job of detecting or deterring cheating on standardized tests. There’s good news here though. In 2012, I sponsored legislation to require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to buy software to detect and deter cheating on standardized tests statewide. That bill did not pass, but after continued discussions with DESE, the department requested funds in this year’s budget to buy the software. Because it just passed in this year’s budget, the software wasn’t available for use during the testing periods covered by Auditor Schweich’s report. However, it should be available everywhere in the state for this year’s standardized tests. 

Bringing the Scientific Method to the Classroom

What works in education? Forget the hype and the hunches, the NYTimes reports on new research from the “Institute of Education Sciences” – a little-known department within the U.S. Department of Education – applying scientific rigor to competing education methods. The office has conducted 175 randomized studies to date. Some findings: one popular math textbook showed demonstrably better results than its competitors; another computer-aided math program had no effect on learning. 

The studies are conducted through randomized clinical trialsResults are available for teachers and administrators at the department’s What Works Clearinghouse.