Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Forum Tackles Education

Rep. Tommie Pierson, talks during a town hall meeting at Greater St. Mark Family Church in North St. Louis County, on Saturday, April 26, 2014. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle, scordle@post-dispatch.com
Rep. Tommie Pierson, talks during a town hall meeting at Greater St. Mark Family Church in North St. Louis County, on Saturday, April 26, 2014. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle, scordle@post-dispatch.com

Members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus covered a broad range of topics at a town hall meeting Saturday. But the focus of the discussion rarely shifted far from education — specifically, the challenges faced by struggling school districts such as Normandy and Riverview Gardens.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon kicked off the forum at Greater St. Mark Family Church in north St. Louis County with a presentation on the tenuous standing of the unaccredited district. Riverview Gardens is spending about $15 million this year on tuition and transportation for students who have transferred to other districts.

Saying he’d “never been more optimistic” about Riverview Gardens’ future, he told the roughly three dozen state legislators, local officials and community members in attendance that the district had made strides in several key areas. Those include improving attendance and reading comprehension levels and reducing discipline problems.

Providing a category-by-category breakdown of how the district was faring under the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s accreditation formula, he said it was possible Riverview could eventually earn enough points to shed its unaccredited status.

However, Spurgeon said the millions that Riverview Gardens was paying for tuition and transportation for its students attending school elsewhere was crippling the district, which is expected to run out of money during the 2014-2015 school year.

“I’m just giving money away,” he said, noting that only a handful of districts receiving transfers from Riverview Gardens had hired more teachers and staff. “I’m just writing checks.”

At current state funding levels, if the tuition that unaccredited districts have to pay for transferring students isn’t reduced, he said, “we will not make it.”

In Jefferson City, a House committee passed a bill last week that would lower transfer payments, though some caucus members said it wouldn’t fully address problems of the school transfer law, which requires unaccredited districts to pay for tuition and provide transportation for students who transfer to districts in the same or bordering county. The Senate passed a different plan in February.

Caucus members also discussed legislation related to the revision of the state’s criminal code and Medicaid expansion.

Missouri is one of 23 states that have not expanded Medicaid to more low-income individuals under the federal Affordable Care Act. Caucus chair Tommie Pierson, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said it was a more a matter of when, and not if, the program would be expanded, and several legislators expressed frustration about the Republican opposition to expansion in Jefferson City.

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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Walker Moskop wmoskop@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8349

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