Missouri is a diverse state and education issues vary from region to region. For example, problems in St. Louis and Kansas City are different than problems in Southwest Missouri. This makes it difficult to pass legislation that works for everyone. With this in mind, the mission of our committee was to listen, to inquire, and to make positive recommendations that would benefit all public school districts in Missouri. School funding wasn’t really an issue that we were to address on this occasion, because the House Committee on Appropriation for Education deals with all funding issues. However, funding is a big part of education and we received many comments concerning future funding needs.
There are 522 public schools districts in our state, serving over 900,000 students at a total taxpayer cost of $11.5 billion. Most all of this money comes from local, county, and state governments, with only about 10% coming from the federal government. The difference in the price tag to educate a child for one year will vary as well. For example, in Southwest Missouri, it costs approximately $7,000 per child per year, while in St. Louis it will range from $10,000 to $19,000 per child per year.
These are interesting facts, but the topics we mainly dealt with on our committee were as follows: 1) transfer students and state-wide plans for addressing persistently low achieving and failing school districts; 2) early childhood education; 3) evaluation of teachers; 4) teacher tenure; 5) common core state standards; 6) virtual schools and technology in the 21st century; 7) school safety; 8) parent-community-school relationships and transparency; 9) school choice; 10) charter schools; 11)school calendar.
Future articles will address some of these topics more in depth, but today I want to focus on the school calendar issue. There will be a bill filed in January that will seek to change the existing school calendar. The main areas of change will be to start school no earlier than September 1 and end it no later than May 31, with the possibility of it ending as early as the first part of May. The proposed school calendar will consist of seven hours, replacing the current six-hour day. If this were to be adopted it would require 155 days, with a total time requirement of 1,085 hours. This will replace the 174-day year, or the current requirement of 1,044 hours. The proposed schedule will allow for three week-long breaks during the school year. It would also require mandatory summer school for students who score less than proficient in math, English, science, and social studies on their statewide assessments. This proposed school calendar is endorsed by our state’s tourism industry.
One might ask why our state’s tourism industry is even interested in the school calendar. Missouri’s tourism industry, our state’s second largest industry, suffers economically when schools start in early August, because it brings a premature, abrupt end to the vacation season, as many of tourism’s workers are high school and college students. Furthermore, Missouri’s State Fair is in full swing when most of our state’s schools open for the year. Numerous young people are still involved in showing their animals and exhibits or working at the fairgrounds.
Another proposed school calendar would require year round school. The idea here is that over the summer students lose much knowledge from the previous school year. Supporters of this proposal say that most school buildings now have air conditioning and are equipped to stay open year round, so why not just go ahead and have school. Last year, Governor Nixon proposed a school year of 180 days, an increase of six days over the previous 174 days. Though his proposal wasn’t acted on earlier, it may be a consideration at next year’s Session.
All these proposals –and perhaps others— will be discussed as we look at various adjustments to the current school calendar.