- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri education board members started digging into various proposals aimed at bolstering the performance of struggling school districts Monday as they prepared to hear a recommendation next week about what to do.

Officials have been considering plans for troubled school districts since a law took effect last year giving state education officials greater powers to intervene in unaccredited districts. More than a half-dozen proposals have been submitted, including by school systems, education organizations and the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, which was contracted by the state to develop recommendations.

Missouri’s three unaccredited districts are Normandy, Riverview Gardens and Kansas City public schools. An additional 11 districts have provisional accreditation.

No final ideas were voted on during Monday’s lengthy work session. The state board is scheduled to meet Feb. 18.

There seemed at least some support around the idea of an agreement between a district and state education officials, under which the struggling district would face consequences if it doesn’t make required improvements. Board member Charlie Shields said for Kansas City the consequence could be offering other opportunities such as allowing a nearby school system to operate a school or establishing a charter school sponsored by the district.

“Get better, do what you say you’re going to do, or provide other opportunities for your students so that those children aren’t trapped in a bad education system,” Shields said.

Other ideas from the submissions prompted concern, such as allowing nonprofit entities to operate individual schools or establishing a statewide district for failing schools. Board member Mike Jones said the latter could be seen as an “education leper colony.”

In addition to improving the quality of the unaccredited districts, part of the focus has been the effects of a 1993 student transfer law. The law requires school systems without state accreditation to pay tuition and provide transportation for students who want to attend a nearby accredited school. Normandy is projected to run out of funds in April without state financial relief.

The Missouri School Boards’ Association released a plan Monday that would halt student transfers while requiring unaccredited districts to commit to improvements. A contract between state officials and the unaccredited district would include requiring intensive professional development for all board members, administrators and teachers. The state would make the district “provisionally accredited” while the contract is in place.

“We believe this plan has the best chance to allow struggling school districts to remain under local control and develop improvement plans that best fit their circumstances,” said Carter Ward, the executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association. “This plan also ensures a commitment by the community to provide an excellent education to call students.”

The concept is supported by the Missouri Association of School Administrators, the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals, the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

A proposal that CEE-Trust presented in January to the State Board of Education suggests establishing a Community Schools Office that would be responsible for selecting nonprofit entities to operate individual schools. The executive director would be appointed by the state education commissioner and an advisory board would be named by the State Board of Education.

Individual school operators would have authority over curriculum and other decisions, such as increasing teacher pay. CEE-Trust said it would give individual schools greater control over their funds and free up enough money for a universal pre-kindergarten program in Kansas City.

Among others submitting proposals are the unaccredited districts and the Missouri Charter Schools Association.

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