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Arthur pushes alternative path to graduation for certain students in new bill


The Missouri Times is previewing pre-filed legislation during the month of December, bringing you an insider’s look at bills that could potentially drive session next year. Follow along with our Legislative Preview series here.

When it comes to teaching in Missouri, Sen. Lauren Arthur wants more of a focus on “competency-based education” — a bill she pre-filed earlier this month aims to provide an alternative path to graduation for some students. 

SB 34 would have the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) establish the “Show Me Success Diploma,” which would be available to students from after 10th grade until the end of 12th grade. The diploma would be awarded based on the student’s competency and college and career readiness rather than the amount of time he or she spent in the classroom or “seat time”. 

Earning the degree would allow students deemed “career and college ready” to enroll in a qualifying postsecondary educational institution or enter the workforce early. 

“I feel like in our education policy discussions we sort of get stuck on charter schools and school vouchers,” Arthur, a former teacher, told The Missouri Times. “We have a lot of kids in our public schools. I want to make sure that we’re giving every child a quality opportunity.”

Missouri school districts and charter schools receive financial aid from the federal, state, and local government for each student attending their schools. According to Arthur, this creates an incentive structure where schools get more money the longer their students are in the classroom, rather than whether the student is competent in the core subjects such as reading and math.

Under this bill, a student enrolled in a qualifying postsecondary educational institution would receive 90 percent of their proportionate share of that aid. The money would be placed into an account listing the pupil as the beneficiary — allowing the students to put the money toward their higher education. The schools would receive the remaining 10 percent through what would be the student’s 12th year of schooling.

The bill would require DESE to develop detailed requirements for students to become eligible for the Show Me Success diploma by July 1, 2022. The state treasurer would be responsible for creating the account and providing guidance and assistance to school districts, parents, and students on the maintenance and use of the funds.

Students could also choose to stay in high school, even after earning the diploma, and would be allowed to participate fully in all activities. In this case, the school would continue to receive 100 percent of the aid.

The bill was developed by modeling Arizona’s “Grand Canyon High School Diploma,” a part of the “Move on When Ready” program.

Arthur’s legislation would also create a “Competency-Based Education Task Force” to study and develop competency-based education programs in public schools. The task force would consist of two members of the House, two members of the Senate, the DESE commissioner, and four people appointed by the governor.

“I’m happy to work with anyone who is interested in this legislation,” Arthur, a Democrat, said. “I welcome input from stakeholders and hope we can get something across the finish line. Missouri’s success depends on our workforce.”

Senate pre-filing opened at the start of December. The 2021 legislative session begins Jan. 6.