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Arthur proposes incentives for public, charter schools to ‘improve exisiting system’


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As the Missouri General Assembly gears up to consider likely contentious legislation regarding charter school expansion, one Democratic state senator is proposing fixes to the current system.

Championed by Sen. Lauren Arthur, SB 445 would provide state school funding under the foundation formula for school districts and charter schools that allow high school students to take competency-based courses.

“We’ve talked a lot about incentivizing innovation in the classroom, and making sure that education better reflects some of the modern needs and that our students are prepared for 21st-century problems,” Arthur, a former teacher, told The Missouri Times. “Competency or efficiency-based education — in my opinion — is one of the best ways to make sure that our students are learning and mastering the skills and content that they need to succeed.”

But with the General Assembly expected to hear multiple bills regarding broadening access to charter schools and vouchers before the session is over — largely expected to be a contentious fight among lawmakers — Arthur said this legislation would “improve our existing system to make sure we are preparing students for the real world and creating lifelong learners.”

“It’s my way of saying we shouldn’t accept the status quo. There are proven strategies for making sure that all classrooms are holding their students to high standards, but this would allow for personalized learning, more flexibility, teachers feeling empowered, [and] it’s meaningful for both staff and students,” Arthur said. “I think this is one way we can improve what we have as opposed to dismantling it and trying to start over.”

“It’s my way of saying we shouldn’t accept the status quo.”

Just what constitutes a “competency-based” course would still need to be further defined, Arthur said. She also noted there is still work to be done on the bill — especially when it comes to lowering its fiscal impact. 

Arthur presented her legislation before the Senate Education Committee earlier this week where she said she learned many people “assume that we’re [already] teaching to proficiency, that we’re ensuring our students are advanced or proficient in these really important core areas — but that’s not the case.”

“There are some classrooms and some schools that have really embraced that approach, but my goal — my hope — is to make that an option available to all schools and school districts, and I think creating an incentive would push them in that direction,” Arthur said, adding she hopes schools that are already successfully administering these courses could serve as examples for others.

Otto Fajen, the legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA), said Arthur’s bill provides “additional flexibility” by promoting proficiency-based instruction that will allow those in school to learn at a pace more suited to their learning needs.

“The idea of encouraging that kind of flexibility at the local level — if it works better for kids to break apart a rigid grade-level mindset and work with each kid at mastery every step of the way — if we can create the policies that allow for that, that’s a great thing,” Fajen told The Missouri Times.