Area legislators say they remain somewhat optimistic about passing a bill to alleviate suburban school districts’ concerns about student transfers from unaccredited districts.
The current version of the bill in the General Assembly gives Independence an exemption from taking on transferring students.
“If everybody’s willing to be reasonable, I think we can get something done,” Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit and the House assistant majority floor leader, said at Friday’s Independence Chamber of Commerce legislative briefing,
The Kansas City School District lacks state accreditation, and under state law students in that district could begin transferring to neighboring districts this fall, at the Kansas City district’s expense. That’s been financially ruinous to two St. Louis area districts, and school leaders in Eastern Jackson County have expressed concerns about how many students they might be expected to take on.
Kansas City and St. Louis area legislators this year have been looking to change the law.
“Hopefully – hopefully – we can get something done. ... And I hope – I hope – the governor will sign it. I’m not sure that he will,” said Rep. Noel Torpey, R-Independence. Legislators adjourn in four weeks.
The current bill would let a student in a failing school – one where test scores and other measures are low – move to a successful school within the same district. Once all those slots in the district are full, parents could look to neighboring districts, but Independence would be exempt from that because of its overall low annual performance review scores. The bill also would have the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education intervene more quickly in districts where APR scores are slipping, with the aim of heading off a loss of accreditation.
Finally, if the slots in neighboring districts fill up, students could enroll in private, non-religious schools, though many legislators have a problem with the idea of public money going to private schools.
Cierpiot said the bill should get to the House floor the week of April 28. Overall, he said, the idea is to get students in good schools.
“And I think everyone in the General Assembly,” said Rep. John Mayfield, D-Independence, “truly cares about the children of Missouri.”
Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, also suggested guarded optimism.
“We’ll do what the General Assembly does,” he said. “We’ll agree on the big thing and nit-pick on the small stuff.”
Legislators said they foresee a large fight over tax cuts in the coming days, and Republicans said they seem to have the votes to override a possible veto by Gov. Jay Nixon.
The House has passed a bill to cut state income taxes from a top rate of 6 percent down to 5.5 percent. It also would allow some businesses to pay income taxes at the personal rate.
It is an idea that Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, has pushed for some time. Last year the General Assembly passed his bill, which Nixon vetoed, and Republicans fell just short of enough votes to override the veto. Earlier this year, Kraus worked with the governor on the issue. In February Kraus and Nixon announced the outlines of an agreement, but that didn’t gain traction in the Senate.
So Republican legislators are back to their earlier idea, with some modifications.
“It’s a compromise,” Torpey said.
Still, LeVota called the plan risky – endangering funding for schools, roads and other services – and added, “It is my guess that the governor will veto it.”
That could come in the next two weeks, but now House Republicans might have enough votes – all in their party plus a couple of Democrats – to override a veto.
Republicans strenuously dismiss the charge that the tax cut is reckless or risky. Kraus put it this way: It doesn’t kick in for two years, it’s phased in over five years, and it only takes effect if state revenues are $150 million higher than the highest level of any of the three previous years. His argument has been that state revenues rise over time as the economy expands, and the idea is to give some of that money back to the taxpayers.
“Levels of budget funding will never go down, because of triggers,” he said.
Torpey took issue with the governor making campaign-style appearances to criticize the bill and, apparently, foreshadow a veto.
“I just get so frustrated that they are manipulating the numbers to their talking points,” he said.
“It’s just not true,” he added. “We’re not going to cut education.”
Democrats put it differently. Other states that have done this – Kansas and Oklahoma are often cited – have seen revenues fall and services slip.
“We need to be the Show-Me State, not the Me-Too State because other states have done this,” LeVota said.
Rep. Ira Anders, D-Independence, said it was easy vote for him – no.
“There’s no question about that – it does reduce revenue,” he said.
It’s interesting to note, Anders said, that legislators were passing this bill at the same time they were passing a measure to put a one-cent statewide sales tax for roads and bridges on the ballot. That tax by itself would more than take away from most taxpayers what they would save on the income-tax cut.
Final weeks, many issues
Torpey’s proposal to make changes to the Medicaid and expand coverage to uninsured Missourians is still an uphill struggle, legislators said.
“We have the votes in the House to pass something, but it’s probably going to die in the Senate,” Mayfield said. “You have three or four senators who oppose it.”
Torpey has, among other arguments, outlined it as a matter of fairness. Many people under the Affordable Care Act are qualifying for subsidies to help pay for insurance while in Missouri those who are among the poorest of the poor get nothing.
“We’re going to keep working it,” he said.
• Mayfield has a bill to slightly expand the state’s Sunshine Law, which governs the openness of public meetings and records. His bill would have the law apply to legislators, too. The bill got a hearing in the House, but Mayfield conceded it won’t pass this year.
“I’m going to push for it until it’s passed,” he said.
• LeVota is pushing to have the state Department of Economic Development study the idea of getting a Super Bowl at Arrowhead Stadium. He said that would mean “national recognition and a rallying point for our community.”
• Mayfield wants to expand Amber alerts to included endangered persons.
“If it can help one family, if it can help one person, it’s worth it,” he said.