Weekly Update
February 12, 2021
It's safe to go back into the.....classroom
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a much-anticipated report today that provides a road map for putting kids back in the classroom, citing strong evidence that schools can safely reopen, especially for elementary students. 

 According to a story published by the Associated Press, "CDC officials emphasized that in-person learning has not been identified as a substantial driver of coronavirus spread in U.S. communities, and that transmission among students is now considered relatively rare."

The story also reported that, "The safest way to open schools is by making sure there is as little disease in a community as possible. The agency urged local officials to assess whether a bad outbreak is occurring in a community when making decisions about sending adults and children into schools."

In Kansas and Missouri, in-person instruction decisions are currently being made on a local level, with states only providing guidelines or recommendations.
Missouri News
Aligned Priorities

This week we appeared in front of the House Committee on Emerging Issues  to support HB 973 (Shields). This bill would provide more funding in the state foundation formula for early childhood education and deliver up to $53 million to districts and charters annually. This bill is similar to SB 167.

Representative Brenda Shields told committee members that although we include early childhood in the foundation formula, we only fund a small portion of Pre-K in school districts. "Expanding the foundation to include 10 percent of the free- and reduced-lunch population is imperative to Missouri's future - 85% of a child's brain is developed in the first 1,000 days of a child's life and 95% of a child's brain is developed by the age of 5. Knowing this, it is evident that our greatest return on investment is to provide these services to low-income children at a very early age."

In 2014, Aligned worked with legislators to put Pre-K funding in the formula; Linda Rallo testified that this was a significant first step, and HB 973 will build upon that work and provide more funding, especially to rural communities

She added that this bill would "have a great economic effect on the two-generation workforce, where you give parents the ability to have options for their kids while they work, but you're also giving those kids a great start."

Representative Scott Cupps thanked Rallo for her testimony and said that this bill would help bring equity to families in his rural district.

We also expect the Committee on Children and Families to take a vote on HB 865 (Shields) next week. This bill would give counties the ability to create local early childhood boards and seek voter-approved funding through a property tax.

Aligned has been working diligently with committee members this past week to educate them on the benefits of this legislation.

And finally, HB 1071, which makes the early learning quality assurance report program (QAR) permanent, was referred to the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.

General Legislative Update

Here are a few toplines from activity under both the federal and state domes this week.
  • U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee released its part of the COVID relief package, and Missouri stands to receive an extra $1.7 billion in Medicaid funding.
  • Senate Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Safety Committee approved a funding bill to incrementally increase the gas tax by 2.5 cents per year for six years for a total of 15 cents by 2022.
  • House Elections and Elected Officials Committee heard two bills and nine constitutional amendments aimed at overhauling the initiative petition process.
  • Former Missouri Senator Scott Sifton announced plans to challenge incumbent U.S. Senator Roy Blunt in the 2022 election.
General Education Update

This week the House Committee on Budget passed HB 137 - the Charter Funding Equity Bill - by a vote of 14-13. This bill requires charter schools and each school district to include an annual independent audit to verify pupil residency. 

The bill also mandates that school districts pay for each pupil attending a charter school in that district based on the formula established in the bill which includes all state aid and local aid received by the school district divided by the total weighted average daily attendance of the school district and all charter schools within the school district. 

In the legislation, "local aid" is defined to include all local and county revenue received by the school district and charter schools within the school district, with specific examples and exclusions specified in the bill.  

The Committee on Rules must approve HB 137 before the bill moves to the House floor for a full debate. We expect action in the next week


Budget Update

The Missouri Senate sent the FY 2021 supplemental budget bill to Governor Mike Parson's desk, which contains $324 million in federal stimulus for rental relief for landlords and tenants.

The House Budget Committee received a budget presentation by officials from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this week. 

The FY22 budget proposes $6.7 billion for public education, which includes $3.56 billion for the PK-12 foundation formula, $661 million for the Office of Childhood, and $38 million for career education.

Dr. Margie Vandeven and newly-named Office of Childhood Director Dr. Pam Thomas answered questions around the new Office of Childhood and discussed the impetus for its creation. 

"It's a conversation that's been had for a long time, more recently in 2018. The governor selected our department to be the lead administrator of the preschool development grant. And the focus of that grant is really to make more formal coordination across agencies put formal relationships between our agencies," said Thomas.

She also explained that there was a task force in place through a Zero-to-Three grant to focus on early childhood governance and assess the strengths of each state agency and where locating an Office of Childhood made the most sense. 

Aligned was honored to serve on this task force to make a recommendation and has confidence in the governor's decision to house these programs and services within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 
Kansas News

Legislative Update 

It feels like session is moving faster than usual this year. Today marked the last day to for non-exempt committees to introduce bills in their respective chambers. Lawmakers will work bills for the next two weeks before the February 26th deadline. Each full chamber will work bills March 1st through the 4th before all non-exempt bills must be passed out of their house of origin on the 5th (Turnaround). We are almost halfway there!  

Scholarship Bill Clears Senate
Last week, the Senate Education Committee also advanced SB 61 to the full chamber.  This week, after a long full Senate debate, SB 61 was passed 23-14. This bill expands the $8,000 private school annual scholarship to any Kansas student eligible for free and reduced lunch. Lawmakers anticipate that close to 1,200 students will utilize the program in 2021/22, up from 630 in 2020/21. Last week, the K-12 Budget Committee passed its sister bill, HB 2068.
 
Much of the debate on the bill involves the tax credits offered to donors to this scholarship fund. Donors who contribute can get a 70% income tax deduction of their total contribution.  The program is capped at $10 million for $8,000 scholarships or 1,250 students. Roughly $2 million of the fund was used in 2020/21 for 630 students. Additionally, opponents pointed out the program mostly supports urban/suburban students, as private options are often not available in rural areas. 
 
Navigating Next
The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) presented its plan to lead schools out of the pandemic this week to the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the House K-12 Education Budget Committee. KSDE Commissioner Randy Watson shared the  NAVIGATING NEXT document with the groups. The agency will use the plan to outline how all schools will return to in-person classes, how assessments will be administered and used to address learning gaps.  Watson said that Navigating Next will help districts begin to plan for summer school, offering after school and special tutoring programs, and extending the school year the next couple of years to fill the gaps.
 
Kansas has received two CARES ACT payments to help support this process of getting kids back to school. Craig Neuenswander, KSDE Deputy Commissioner of Fiscal and Administrative Services, shared a breakdown of the funds to date.
  • Title 1 (90%); COVID-19 Supplies (10%)
    • Spring 2020 - $84 million  
    • Fall 2020 - $333 million  
  • Special Education - $24 million
  • Private Schools - $26.7 million available for those who apply for COVID related service expenses.
 
Other education-related activity
 
The House K-12 Education Budget Committee passed HB 2119 this week after extensive debate. The Student Empowerment Program will direct State General Funds into education savings accounts for students to use for private instruction.  
 
HB 2119 includes stipulations that are targeted specifically at students who spent a large amount of time in virtual or hybrid learning. At-risk includes those who underwent four consecutive weeks of remote learning in the current or immediately preceding school year or six weeks within a calendar year.
 
"When we watch some schools go remote, some for over a year, that puts kids at risk," said Representative Kristey Williams. "We need to give parents a chance to let their kids go in person to school."
 
This bill outlines a transfer of base aid, about $4,500 could be used by students for tuition, fees, textbooks and other supplies charged by a private school. With much of the state's students in virtual or hybrid learning at least part of the last year, it is estimated that it could cost the state about $217 million if just 10% of the state's 476,000 public-school students participated in the program.  

The funds also could be used for "educational therapies or services" provided by a licensed or accredited education provider, certified tutoring services as well as tuition and fees charged by an accredited private online learning program.

The legislation defines a "qualified" private school as one that's accredited or a nonaccredited school that's registered with the Kansas State Board of Education.
The accounts would be administered by the state treasurer, who estimates that it would cost about $600,000 to set up a new division to run the program. State Treasurer Lynn Rogers, whose office would have to administer the accounts under the bill, released an article citing numerous problems that he found with the proposal.

Kansas Promise Scholarship Act

The Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development will hear HB 2287 this Wednesday, February 17th. This bill establishes the Kansas Promise Scholarship Act to provide scholarships to students who attend postsecondary educational programs that correspond to high-need career fields. Like its sister bill, SB 43HB 2287 directs to the Kansas Board of Regents and Department of Commerce to identify up to 10 fields with the highest demand for skilled workers. and requires recipients to perform community service while enrolled in the qualified programs.
 
Civics Requirement Moving

The House Education Committee passed HB 2039, a bill that would require all Kansas students to pass a civics test as a requirement to graduate high school, without recommendation this week. 


Aligned in the news

Last week, Missourinet covered the hearing on HB 865 (Shields), which creates local levees for early childhood education. 

Aligned's Linda Rallo was quoted as saying, "This is exactly what we need in Missouri. We have federal funding that comes into our state and we have state funding through the foundation formula that funds pre-K, but it's not enough to meet the needs of each community."


All press is good press, but this actually was good press. 

Stay warm and have a wonderful weekend!

All the best,




Torree Pederson
Torree@WeAreAligned.org
(913) 484-4202

Linda Rallo
Linda@WeAreAligned.org
(314) 330-8442