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Henderson's School Turnaround Act passes

House Bill 604, better known as the School Turnaround Act, awaits the the governor's signature after passing both the House and Senate. The legislation was proposed by Rep. Mike Henderson in January and is aimed at improving the approach to helping students who are struggling in some areas of their education.   

The state legislature has given final approval to HB 604, a bill filed by State Rep. Mike Henderson (R-Desloge), in order to provide more tools to better help meet the needs of students in under-performing schools.

With a vote of 116-35 from the Missouri House of Representatives and a unanimous Senate vote, HB 604 now goes before Gov. Mike Parson to sign.

House Bill 604, better known as the School Turnaround Act, is intended to empower the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to identify under-performing schools and provide an influx of much-needed support to the teachers and leaders within those schools.

Once implemented, the program will create opportunities for identified schools to partner with outside organizations that have demonstrable expertise in school improvement. Those organizations will provide the intensive professional learning and coaching necessary to help school staff better meet students’ needs.

This bill is the first of its kind in Missouri and includes an innovative “pay for performance” provision, ensuring that outside providers will only receive their full fee payments for schools that meet improvement targets.

“With the passage of HB 604, we’ve taken a major step to help ensure that all of Missouri’s students have access to a high-quality education,” Henderson said. “By passing this legislation, we reaffirm Missouri’s commitment to ensuring that every child has the access they need to receive the best education we can give, while also providing our educational staff the tools they need to accomplish the goal of creating the best and brightest Missourians.”

Henderson explained that this measure will allow DESE to identify specific school buildings within a district that may need improvement. The measure is basically a school reform for some of these buildings that are having problems in certain subjects, according to Henderson.

Henderson went on to explain how the process will work. DESE will put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) and vendors who think they can meet the needs of the school will then submit their proposals. DESE will then take the proposals and approve a minimum of two vendors for consideration. Then, school staff and parents on a committee will decide which vendor they want to come in and help them with the issue that they're having.

The vendors providing assistance can be companies or other educational institutions. There are companies that are already participating in these types of educational assistance programs in states such as Utah.

Henderson said the University of Missouri has spoken with him about possibly getting involved.

“It would be a hope of mine that a university that has a good education program, like Southeast Missouri State, would get involved,” said Henderson.  

The vendors coming in will not take teachers out of the classroom but rather help them in the classroom with the identified problems.

Henderson said that the vendors that are chosen to work with the schools won't receive their fee unless the program is successful. There are safeguards in the bill that require the vendors to work under a merit-based fee structure and will only receive their compensation if the scores increase at the schools they’re helping.

“I've looked at the numbers and they're probably going to lose money unless they make the progress,” said Henderson. “I think it's a really good way to have them incentivized to really work hard and ensure that they're working with those teachers to make the improvements in the school.”  

If signed into law, the measure won’t go into effect until 2021. Henderson said that time is needed to get the funds for this program appropriated, possibly in a supplemental budget. DESE will also require time to put out the RFP and get vendors certified and approved.

“If we’re going to do this, we’re going to it right,” said Henderson, a former North County Schools administratior.

The School Turnaround Act will supplement the initiatives outlined in the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, which was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in 2017 and approved by Secretary Betsy DeVos.

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Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3628, or at bradford@dailyjournalonline.com.

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