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Education officials endorse proposal for intervening in Missouri school districts

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — The Missouri State Board of Education endorsed a plan Friday aimed at boosting state involvement in struggling schools.

Districts will be classified in tiers based upon their performance, with the amount of state intervention increasing as performance worsens. The most significant state interventions would be aimed at school systems that are provisionally accredited or unaccredited. Officials also would have flexibility to consider the conditions within each district when deciding what action to take.

"This is not a one-size-fits-all plan," Deputy Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said.

The state board Friday directed officials at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to start work on using the newly approved framework in developing plans for individual districts.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said the process likely would start with an overview of the unaccredited and provisionally accredited districts. She said more discussion would be needed with lawmakers about the funding and resources that are required to support the plan. She said further refinements are possible before the intervention plan comes up again before the board for final approval.

Officials have been considering proposals for Missouri schools since a law took effect last year giving the education department greater powers to intervene in unaccredited districts. The education board last month reviewed a draft developed by the state department and public hearings have been held.

Missouri's unaccredited districts currently are Normandy, Riverview Gardens and Kansas City. There are 11 provisionally accredited districts. Accreditation status is not affected by the intervention plan.

Board Vice President Mike Jones said the intervention plan is a significant change.

"You see us moving to say that if we're responsible for all children having a quality education in the 21st century, we need to exercise that responsibility in a proactive manner," he said.

Under the plan, school districts in the top tier will have access to state support but not be required to use it. An early alert will trigger greater state involvement when an accredited district has slipped toward scoring in the provisional range, shown a decline in performance during the past two years or has a low-performing school.

State action would pick up for the third tier covering provisionally accredited districts. Binding performance contracts would be enacted between the local school boards and the state that set performance targets and require steps such as early childhood education or longer school days. Targeted audits could be used to examine issues such as community involvement and curriculum.

The increased attention upon provisionally accredited districts is an effort to prevent the schools from becoming unaccredited.

Unaccredited districts are subject to state review over how they are governed. The State Board of Education could keep the local school board in place or it could swap out the local school board for a special administrative board or select another governance structure reporting to the state education commissioner. The state also could lapse an unaccredited district, which would dissolve it.

When a district has been lapsed, there would be several options such as contracting with neighboring districts to operate schools, assigning students to another school district or forming new school systems within the lapsed district.

The education department's plan does not change a student transfer policy that requires unaccredited school districts to pay for students to attend better-performing schools in other districts. A 1993 state law allows the transfers, and they have led to financial problems for the unaccredited districts. Transfers have taken place this school year in Normandy and Riverview Gardens.

Missouri lawmakers are considering bills this session that take aim at the transfer law. Legislation has been endorsed in the Senate, and a House committee is considering a separate bill.

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Online:

Missouri education department: http://www.dese.mo.gov

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