The school board informally agreed during its meeting September 12 to take this step in large part because of a River City Journalism Fund investigation published in the RFT and St. Louis Public Radio on June 7. The story showed that only 15 percent of the more than 23,000 eligible students in the district were taking part, that the average account had only grown to $73, and that only the treasurer’s office was earning interest off millions of dollars in accounts — while students weren’t collecting a dime.
Antoinette “Toni” Cousins, the school board president, said the freeze was less a matter of having concerns and more about needing more information.
“We don’t necessarily have concerns,” Cousins said of College Kids. “We’re just trying to get a full understanding of what services they provided since the conception of the program. We’re trying to get hard data and information from the beginning until now.”
Cousins added, “We are aware of the story that you ran, and other stories that have run in regard to the College Kids fund.”
The freezing of the school board’s memorandum of understanding means that St. Louis Public Schools will not share the names and other identifiers of district kindergarten students with the treasurer’s office, which has been the main way for students to enroll in College Kids.
“Until we’re able to get the information that we request of them, no, we’ll no longer provide that information,” Cousins said.
The school board has also suspended the memoranda of understanding governing other partnerships with the school district while it seeks information from them, Cousins said.
SLPS’ College Kids freeze won’t affect the 14 city charter schools that take part in College Kids and maintain separate memoranda of understanding with the treasurer’s office.
School Superintendent Keisha Scarlett began her job on July 1.
The timing of the district’s freeze of these agreements is based, in part, on the recent hiring of Keisha Scarlett as the district’s new superintendent, Cousins said.
In a September 15 letter to Layne, Scarlett outlined a series of concerns about the district’s partnership with the treasurer’s office as it relates to the College Kids program, as well as the city’s upcoming Guaranteed Basic Income project, which will serve parents of school district students.
Scarlett asked for detailed information about College Kids’ operations in a list of seven bullet points, including both the current status of accounts and any research done into the program’s impact. She wrote that the district was “suspending SLPS’ involvement … until we gain a better understanding of its impact.”
As for the Guaranteed Basic Income program, Scarlett made clear she was ready to proceed, but, in an unprecedented move, asked the city “to redirect a portion of the funding used to hire independent staff for this initiative to compensate our SLPS staff for covering these additional responsibilities.”
In late December, the city approved a Guaranteed Basic Income cash assistance program to be paid for with nearly $4 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Called the “Working Families Bill,” the pilot program, once it is launched, will be Missouri’s first guaranteed basic income program. It is expected to support 440 families with $500 checks for 18 consecutive months, according to Jones’ office.
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