ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Missouri state lawmakers say now is the time to act on the school transfer issue and a bipartisan group of senators has crafted a bill to do so.
Eric Schmitt and John Lamping, both Republicans, along with Democrats Scott Sifton and Gina Walsh, say their legislation makes modifications to the transfer program, accreditation, and charter schools.
Senator Walsh admits the groups doesn’t agree on everything.
“It’s a compromise and that’s what we set out to do,” she said during a press conference Monday.
Sifton says it was important to reach a consensus.
“We don’t want a chance of things getting bogged down in the legislative process, we want to do everything we can to avoid that,” he said.
Local Democratic senators Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Jamilah Nasheed have crafted their own education legislation for consideration in the 2014 session.
The Nicastro question
When asked if they favored the resignation of Chris Nicastro, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, Lamping and Schmitt were noncommittal.
“I don’t have an opinion. Our focus has been on fixing the problem, focusing on the legislation,” Lamping said.
The other two sponsors of the bill, Sifton and Walsh, did not answer the question about Nicastro.
Last month, the Missouri National Education Association obtained emails showing Nicastro consulted the Children’s Education Council of Missouri, an advocacy group funded by political activist Rex Sinquefield.
More recently, emails obtained by the Kansas City Star show Nicastro’s department rushed the bidding process which resulted in CEE-Trust receiving a contract to overhaul Kansas City schools. The revelations have raised questions about Nicastro’s objectivity in the statewide debate over how to improve failing school districts.
The St. Louis County branch of the NAACP has called for Nicastro to resign, recently starting an online petition and Facebook page.
“I would like to see her resign and give the effort to someone else who could probably do a better job,” Branch President Esther Haywood says. “I’m pretty sure there’s somebody else who can do a better job.”
Riverview Gardens eyes improvement
At a meeting with Missouri’s Department of Education Monday night, the head of the unaccredited Riverview Garden’s School District says things are getting better.
Superintendent Scott Spurgeon says his district tracks attendance, discipline, and reading scores on a monthly basis.
“We’re very pleased so far. For the first semester our discipline has been down to date, over 2,500 referrals less than a year ago,” he said.
Spurgeon says attendance has been on the rise at every school since September and reading scores have improved in every grade except fifth grade.
When asked if the state was pleased with the district’s progress, he says the state expects improvement and the district is meeting those expectations. The superintendent says this is just a first step and there is still a long way to go before the district is accredited again.