Students and their sponsors from St. Peter's School in Marshall visited the capitol this week. (Contributed photo)
Happy May Day! This week's visitors included students and their sponsors from St. Peter's School in Marshall.
House Approves Student Transfer Legislation (SB493)
As you may be aware, approximately 2,000 students have transferred out of the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts in the St. Louis area. The potential exists for a similar migration of students on our side of the state in the Kansas City School District. Therefore, the House took action this week.
The transfer of students from these districts is a result of a law passed in 1993 that allows young students to move into higher performing districts and requires the districts they are leaving to pay the costs of the transfer. While we want students to have the opportunity to pursue better educational opportunities we must also address the accompanying problems of the law. This year we have faced possible bankruptcy with the Normandy school district in the St. Louis area. The General Assembly has funding in place for this year, but we had to take a long look at the future.
The bill passed by the House this week would prevent the instant mass exodus of students from an unaccredited district by requiring students to attend an unaccredited school for one semester before transferring. The bill also attempts to keep costs in check by capping the amount an unaccredited district must pay for a transferring student at 70 percent of tuition costs. The district also would be responsible for providing additional funds for transportation costs. To assist the receiving district the bill would allow them to establish their own policies to limit class sizes and student-teacher ratios.
Much of the discussion on the transfer bill drew support from both parties, but one provision in particular caused some intense debate on the House floor. The provision in question would add an option to allow students in these failing districts in St. Louis and Kansas City to transfer to private, nonsectarian schools. This provision drew opposition. To address some of the concerns of opponents, provisions were added to mandate that private schools who accept public dollars follow the same set of rules that govern public schools. It also would prevent private schools who receive these dollars from charging any additional tuition to parents of transferring students. Supporters of this solution feel it gives additional options to students trying to escape struggling schools.
The transfer bill is extremely complex in its details. It's not a perfect bill but it does make a good faith effort to provide a real world solution to an extremely pressing problem. Because we made several changes to the bill in the House it must now go back to the Senate for approval. If the Senate decides not to approve the House changes we will then go to conference to overcome the differences.
House and Senate Enter Budget Negotiation Phase (HBs 2002 -- 2013)
With the budget deadline of May 9 looming, the House and Senate this week moved to go to conference on 12 of the 13 appropriations bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2015 state operating budget. The $26.8 billion budget is significantly smaller than the one called for by Governor Nixon because it is based on what House and Senate leaders believe are more realistic revenue projections, and because it does not contain dollars to expand Medicaid. However, in the event the governor's more optimistic outlook proves to be correct, the House and Senate built in a surplus revenue fund where dollars above their growth estimate would be placed and then distributed to vital services such as education. Both the House and Senate agree that elementary and secondary education will see a $278 million increase in funding if the governor's estimates prove to be correct. If revenue growth instead comes in at the rate predicted by the legislature, the House's budget plan would provide a funding boost to K-12 education of $122 million. In contrast, the Senate's plan would provide an increase of $115 million. The House and Senate plans also differ in regard to higher education funding. The House version of the budget would increase funding to public universities and colleges around the state by as much as 3% while the Senate version would increase funding by as much as 5%. However, the Senate greatly reduced additional money to community colleges. The House and Senate plans also differ in several other areas. We will work to resolve these differences in the next few days as budget leaders from both sides meet in conference committee to iron out the differences. My hope is that we can hold the House position on many of these education funding increases. Legislature Approves Bill to Provide More Treatment Options to Missourians with Epilepsy (HB 2238)
Legislation that could provide a better quality of life for Missourians suffering from epilepsy is now on its way to the governor's desk to be signed into law. This is for those, many of them children, who have run out of effective treatment options. The bill that will soon become law gives these individuals a chance to obtain CBD oil, which has proven to be effective in limiting seizures. Interestingly, CBD oil is derived from hemp plants. However, given the nature of these plants, CBD should not be confused with medical marijuana. They are distinctly different with different active chemicals. Also, there are many safeguards in place to ensure the hemp plants are used only for the purpose of providing CBD oil to Missourians struggling with epilepsy. This bill has life-altering, life-saving implications for the many families in Missouri with children stricken by epilepsy. One of those families happens to be senator Eric Schmitt. Schmitt's son, Stephen, has intractable epilepsy and suffers from frequent seizures that have impacted the development of his brain, and have the potential to be fatal. Listening to Senator Schmitt and his wife talk about their efforts to give Stephen a better life was a powerful motivator for all. Also, using a naturally occurring chemical is a market-based solution to a real health problem. We came together in both chambers and from both parties to move this legislation quickly and to the governor's desk for his signature.
SB 509 and State Revenue
Governor Nixon is expected to veto SB 509 today. While the governor has attempted to paint SB 509 as a threat to state revenues, he is being disingenuous. Because SB 509 requires revenues to increase by at least $150 million each year, revenues would have to increase by $750 million in order for the $620 million tax cut to be fully implemented. The net result is that state revenues would increase by at least $130 million, which would mean more money for education and other state services. To see a detailed analysis of how SB 509 would actually lead to more funding for education, http://house.mo.gov/pr/releases/SchoolRevenue.pdf. The governor's claim that SB 509 would eliminate the top income tax bracket is not the least bit accurate. The governor's contention that SB 509 eliminates the top tax bracket is a desperate attempt to scare Missourians. In direct refutation to the governor's claims, former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice William Ray Price, Jr. has stated that, "Based upon the plain language of full Senate Bill 509, it is my opinion Missouri courts would find that, after full implementation of the reduction, the 5.5 percent tax rate would apply to all income over $8,000 (as adjusted for C.P.I.)." To read Price's complete opinion, http://house.mo.gov/pr/releases/PriceMemo.pdf. Please pay particular attention to Line 6 of the judge's letter.
It is an honor to serve the 51st District in the Missouri House of Representatives. Each week I will issue a capitol report to keep you informed of activities in Jefferson City and Missouri. Any concerns or issues you might have are of great interest to me. I look forward to your input and thoughts, so please feel free to contact me at any time if you have questions, concerns, or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for all Missourians. My telephone number is 573-751-2204 or you may contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for working with me to make Missouri a great place to live.