State rep from Lee’s Summit unveils education reform plan

tporter@lsjournal.comFebruary 19, 2014 

  • 1822

    House Bill introduced by State Rep. Mike Cierpiot addressing the school transfer law and accreditation issue.

It has long been said that it would take legislative action to reform a state statute that requires surrounding school districts to accept students from unaccredited schools in the same or adjoining counties.

To that end State Rep. Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican, unveiled last week a legislative proposal to help improve the state’s unaccredited school districts, and to provide students in failing schools with a reasonable, cost effective option to obtain a quality education.

Cierpiot’s bill, HB 1822, would require the State Board of Education to intervene with a district as soon as it is provisionally accredited as opposed to unaccredited.

In addition, the bill would empower the board to work with the district to develop intervention methods specific to individual under-performing schools, and to transfer under-performing schools into a State Achievement District.

The long-developing transfer saga between unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools and surrounding suburban school districts in Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Independence, North Kansas City and Raytown, was the driving force for Cierpiot’s proposal.

“With the present law right now there are no rules,” Cierpiot, who represents constituents in school districts in Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs, said via telephone Feb. 17. “It says any child that resides in an unaccredited district can transfer which means any child in the Kansas City School District whether they attend a Kansas City Public School or not will be able to transfer to the Lee’s Summit or Blue Springs School District if this comes to pass.

“I’m trying to impact that by only letting children transfer who are truly in bad schools and also letting the receiving districts put a limit on how many students that can receive to prevent overcrowding.”

Lee’s Summit R-7 School District Superintendent David McGehee had yet to review Cierpiot’s proposal and offered no comment on the bill, while Republican Sen. Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit had yet to review it either and also offered no comment on the matter.

Cierpiot said his legislative proposal would provide a substantive solution to allow the state to intervene in time to put corrective measures in place that can preserve and improve the quality of the education students receive. Part of Cierpiot’s proposal is similar to legislation offered by Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and he is hopeful a consensus can be reached on the issue.

Pearce’s bill includes a number of provisions, including requirements to prove residency in an unaccredited district before being transferred out at district expense, that school districts receive building-by-building accreditation instead of district wide, and the establishment of a statewide achievement district for students in long-unaccredited district.

Cierpiot’s bill also contains provisions to clarify the school transfer. To provide stability to the transfer process, the legislation would require students seeking a transfer to live in the district, attend the district schools for at least one semester and attend a school that is classified as under-performing.

The bill also would require receiving school districts to establish criteria, which includes reasonable class size and teacher ratio, for admission of nonresident pupils and states that a transferring student’s first option would be to attend an accredited school in the current district. The secondary option would be to attend an accredited school in an adjoining district or county.

The third option created by the bill would be available only when superintendents in any receiving school districts establish that all empty seats are filled. It would allow students to utilize Passport Scholarships to attend a private school.

The scholarships would be funded by a 60 percent tax credit with an annual cap of $20 million.

“With the way our current transfer law stands, kids in unaccredited districts have the equivalent of open enrollment,” Cierpiot said. “The Passport Scholarships will provide an effective means to allow families to put their children in good schools where they can get the education they deserve.

“It is important to understand these will only be available when there are no other reasonable public school options for kids in failing buildings. If we are serious about providing our young people with an environment where they can succeed academically, we need to provide a solution such as this that will truly open the doors of opportunity, one that helps kids without bankrupting struggling districts.”

HB 1822 is currently in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee where it awaits discussion.

“There are a lot of (education reform) bills down there and they are some problem points in all of them,” Cierpiot said. “There are a lot of common areas. I’m not sure what will pass, but all of the bills will be looked at.”

McGehee is working with superintendents from throughout Missouri to develop a plan that serves as an alternative to transferring students from unaccredited districts to accredited districts. Known as the New Path to Excellence, the plan has been presented to state legislators, superintendents from across the state and Missouri Board of Education members.

Part of that initiative includes framework that would divide accreditation into four levels instead of the current three with schools being accredited individually, which then would allows students to transfer from an unaccredited school to an accredited school within their own districts.

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