At the beginning of the 2014 legislative session, leaders in both the House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, made addressing the needs of children in and around unaccredited districts their No. 1 priority. Without action from the Missouri Legislature, accredited districts that neighbor unaccredited districts and would receive transfer students do not have the right to set class size limits and will be required to take any child from an unaccredited district who wishes to transfer. Additionally, without action, the unaccredited districts that are sending students are likely to go bankrupt due to the higher tuition payments required by the receiving districts. Perhaps most egregious, without action from the Legislature, children in unaccredited districts will not have access to high-quality neighborhood schools.
Thanks to the leadership of Sens. Tom Dempsey, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, David Pearce, Ed Emery, Eric Schmitt and many others, the Senate gave approval to Senate Bill 493, an accreditation and transfer bill, in late February that would address and fix each of these issues. This historic progress was furthered last week when Reps. Steve Cookson, Jay Barnes, Mike Cierpiot, Rick Stream, John Diehl and Tim Jones led an inclusive and focused process that built much-needed consensus in the 163-member House to pass their version of the same bill. The bill may not be perfect, but it definitely moves us forward to the real work of creating significantly better educational outcomes for our children.
Despite the tremendous progress so far, SB493 bill still needs to make it through one more vote in the House and Senate and avoid Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto pen. I worry that those who are not 100 percent satisfied with the bill will work to stifle SB493’s progress and therefore the progress of our children. Rather than get caught up in the typical fight between the education establishment and the education reformers, I want to remind our elected officials and governor that a vote against this bill is a vote for: stifling the growth of high-quality options in unaccredited districts; bankrupting Normandy School District this summer; bankrupting Riverview Gardens in the next 12 months; allowing chaos to reign in Kansas City Public Schools; and leaving the future of the 2,000 children who transferred during the 2013-2014 school year in limbo. Whatever your problems are with SB493, I can assure you, just one of the problems that comes from not passing it is much larger.
As a founder of a Missouri-based business and an active member of the St. Louis business community, I know how important it is for our city and our state to have a successful education system. I have seen a renewed desire that our communities have to provide a better education for their children and I firmly believe that disagreements between adults elected to represent those communities should not stand in the way.
The Senate and House leaders have done their part, now it is up to the full Legislature and Gov. Nixon to complete their work on SB493 and address the needs of Missouri’s students. Support of SB493 is a vote for the children of Missouri.
The 2014-2015 school year is coming up quickly. Students in unaccredited districts have demonstrated with their feet their desire to receive a high-quality education. Action is needed on this bill so students, their families and school know how they should prepare for the next school year. Do not postpone this decision. Our children deserve action.
Maxine Clark is founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop.