Sen. Ed Emery’s Legislative Report for May 21, 2018

Emery - Column Banner - 011013Learning to Read

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” Victor Hugo

Clinton Middle School was recently awarded a $2,700 grant from the CenturyLink Foundation’s Teachers and Technology program. More than 1,900 applications were submitted from across the country, and Clinton Middle School was one of the 19 Missouri schools to be selected and awarded a total of $71,000. The grants are awarded on behalf of “teachers who have developed plans to innovatively implement technology into their classrooms.” Congratulations Clinton Middle School!

Friday, May 18, was the conclusion the 2018 Legislative session. The final week of session, as always, has been frantic. There were lots of bills remaining on the Senate calendar that did not get a vote by 6 p.m. Many will be refiled again next year to start the process anew. A flurry of omnibus bills and conference committee reports crossed our desks last week as legislators desperately looked for a path for their policy priorities. Omnibus bills have become a significant part of the final week, even though they are the bane of the legislative process. They happen when multiple related bills are combined into a single bill. Usually, the individual issues have already been filed as bills and heard in a Senate or House committee. They may have even passed one legislative body. The challenge created for a legislator or lobbyist is that an omnibus bill may occasionally include both favorable and unfavorable language. It becomes imperative, then, that the bills be considered carefully before voting. Constituents face that same challenge.

One proposal that was not included in an omnibus bill, but failed to make it across the finish line was a reading intervention bill, Senate Bill 949, addressing the critical need to teach students to read by the fourth grade. Senate Bill 949 was modeled after policies implemented in the state of Mississippi where third grade reading proficiency improved from 48 percent to 92 percent in three years. According to the website of Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Missouri seems stuck at about 60 percent of third graders reading at grade level; that means 40 percent are not. Senate Bill 949 was introduced to break out of the status quo in an effort to teach every Missouri child to read.

A Senate Amendment was added to the bill to provide braille training for the visually impaired. Other provisions in the bill included the following:

  • Screening assessments within the first 30 days of school;
  • Notification to parents if there is a deficiency;
  • Teachers provide evidence-based intervention and support in addition to classroom time;
  • Progress monitoring with adjustments to the intervention plan as needed;
  • A read-at-home plan to be provided to parents with parent training available;
  • Quarterly reporting to parents of reading progress; and
  • Clear public posting of each schools reading assessments in easily viewable locations in the building.

Senate Bill 949 did not pass this year. It passed the Senate with a vote of 33 in favor and no one opposed. However, somehow, on the morning the bill was to be presented in the House, DESE discovered that instead of a cost to the department of approximately $7,000 the cost would be $9 million. During that same time, alerts were sent out across the state by the education establishment to oppose the bill.

One of the lead witnesses against the bill was a superintendent who is highly respected among his peers. This $230,000 tax payer dollars per year superintendent has been in his present position for four years. Three of those years, the APR scores for the district fell. At least six of the buildings in his district are considered failing by DESE standards. Nevertheless, he has just been promised a bonus package of $120,000 over the next three years just to stay. No performance standards relative to successfully educating Missouri children were reported. Another superintendent had just left the office of the speaker of the Missouri House where he had lobbied vigorously against the bill when an advocate for SB 949 (a former superintendent) confronted him in the hallway to debunk most of what the superintendent had been saying.  The superintendent admitted he had not read the bill, but only what was distributed by the establishment machine.

Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. We welcome your prayers for the proper application of state government.