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Lawmaker proposes local control plan to opt Missouri districts out of state standards

ANNELISE HANSHAW, Missouri Independent

A Republican lawmaker wants to find a way for some Missouri school districts to opt out of the state’s accreditation program.

State Senator Jill Carter, R-Granby, introduced her bill Tuesday to the Senate Committee on Education and Human Development to allow districts “to get out of the hard hand of the Department of Education.”

Their bill aims to create “local school districts” that would not be required to participate in the Missouri School Improvement Program, annual performance reviews by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or other DESE standards.

To qualify as a local school district, a district must receive at least 75% of its per-student funding locally.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voiced their support for their bill’s premise, although some questioned whether it could be improved and polished.

“Somehow our colleges and universities need to know, does this student have a basic understanding of science? Do you actually know anything about math?” said Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City.

Carter, who was elected to the Senate last year, said there are national groups that could provide accreditation. Their bill gives local school districts the option to replace the Missouri Assessment Program with “any nationally recognized assessment testing program.”

“I appreciate the intent,” Razer said, “but I think we need to work on the details.”

Otto Fajen, the legislative director of Missouri’s National Education Association, said probationary mandates — spurred by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and Missouri’s Outstanding Schools Act — have impacted teachers’ prospects.

“[Teachers] feel restricted and [teaching] really isn’t what they had in mind,” he said. “So they don’t stay in the job.”

He said the Missouri Assessment Program doesn’t allow teachers to use their own creativity.

“We always argue that when you use an assessment, it should be consistent with what children are learning and what teachers are teaching,” Fajen said.

Michael Lodewegen, director of the Missouri Council of School Administrators’ legislative advocacy group, said a universal test is needed to compare schools.

“If we’re going to go into the world of choice, we need a head-to-head comparison to see how the schools compare to each other,” he said.

John Beckett, who served two terms on the Camdenton School Board, said the school board discussed the state’s orders “behind closed doors,” comparing what they wanted to teach and what they felt the state department was looking for.

“This law looks like it will open the floodgates for our students and give them opportunities that we’ve never seen before,” he said.

No one testified against the bill and the committee took no action on Tuesday.

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