Recent Missouri Editorials

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Associated Press
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8

Republicans continue to peddle the Common Core lie
A conservative Republican might understandably have been confused in reading Post-Dispatch reporter Elisa Crouch’s Thursday story about how Missouri lawmakers cut $4.2 million from the state budget to pay for a standardized test aligned with new Common Core learning standards.
Wait a minute. Didn’t the Legislature already kill Common Core?
That’s precisely what Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O’Fallon, told his conservative Republican constituents last year. “HB 1490 ends Common Core in the state of Missouri,” he said. Other Republicans followed passage of that bill last year with similar statements, celebrating the “rejection” of Common Core.
But as we pointed out at the time, that was quite simply a lie. Don’t take our word for it. Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said as much last year during debate over that legislation. “This bill does nothing to stop Common Core,” he said. “It’s a smokescreen.”
So what’s going on here?
Some Missouri Republicans are playing their constituents for chumps. As soon as certain national Republican political consultants decided that calling Common Core a federal plot by President Barack Obama to take over schools (it is not) was a political winner, they began a national campaign to defeat the raised standards that states around the nation had worked to develop. Republican governors (especially those running for president, like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Chris Christie in New Jersey) reneged on their support of Common Core. Money from wealthy donors started flowing into campaign coffers of those who would stand up and oppose the alleged scourge of Common Core.
A full-blown conspiracy was hatched out of thin air. Governors from both parties, all across the nation, had decided that their states needed to do a better job competing in the global education economy. They got together and developed new standards. Nearly every state adopted them. Now, for cynical political reasons, they’re being diminished before they get a chance to take hold.
This is how we do education policy in the U.S. One step forward, two steps back.
Here in Missouri, it’s even worse. Because of the combination of unlimited money, gerrymandered legislative districts that skew to the extremes and term limits, we have turned the Legislature into Kabuki theater. What you see is often a stylized show with little meaning in the real world.
When Mr. Bahr and his friends created House Bill 1490, they did nothing to get rid of Common Core. They simply created “work groups” whose primary intention was to get people angry about Common Core. The early meetings were filled with angry accusations going back and forth between educators and community members who had been sold a bill of goods about the evils of Common Core. In the end, the only thing House Bill 1490 did was to create work groups to offer recommendations on “new” standards to the state’s Board of Education.
Those standards are likely to mimic Common Core. And even if they don’t, the Board can (and will) dismiss them. HB 1490 was created so Mr. Bahr and others could pound their chests and say they killed Common Core when, in fact, they merely added new layers of meaningless bureaucracy costing the state tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
That’s what makes the appropriation bill that Ms. Crouch wrote about so insidious. It requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to sever its ties with the company that created the state’s new Common Core standardized test.
The bill doesn’t get rid of the Common Core test. It merely forces DESE to create its own, less adequate test in a short amount of time with little money to do it. This legislative meddling means that in four years, Missouri public school children will confront their fourth different kind of standardized test. None of those tests can properly be compared with each other, meaning the process of accrediting Missouri schools, or determining how they are performing, will be considerably harder.
Former Board of Education president Peter Herschend — also a conservative Republican, by the way — calls this latest foray by the Legislature into education policy “tragic.”
“The money taken out was an absolute frontal attack on the perception of Common Core,” Mr. Herschend told Ms. Crouch.
Read that quote carefully, because it will be in play next year when we’re back again talking about how Republicans killed Common Core for the third year in a row.
Cutting the money for the test wasn’t an attack on the Common Core standards. The standards survive. They are public policy in the state of Missouri, and neither of Mr. Bahr’s bills in the past two years did anything to change that.
But he created enough smoke to give some of his constituents the perception that he slayed the imaginary Common Core dragon.
This is what passes as education policy in a Missouri Legislature in which lying to constituents seems to be a core value.
_____
St. Joseph News-Press, June 8
Bullying Law Still Needed
Missouri has missed another chance to approve meaningful legislation to address bullying.
In response to some serious acts of harassment and violence at Missouri schools, legislators had developed a thoughtful proposal this year.
The bill beefed up the current law that requires school districts to develop a written discipline policy and provide copies to students and parents. The measure would have required school districts to adopt tougher anti-bullying policies and include them in student handbooks, defined cyber bullying and ensured school districts established suicide prevention policies.
The need is clear in our communities. A 12-year-old autistic boy was severely beaten at Liberty Middle School this year. A teen in the St. Louis area committed suicide because of online bullying.
Various versions of the anti-bullying bill have been considered by the legislature for several years. However, the bill has been mired down with add-ons. This year, a tightly crafted bill had strong bipartisan support in both chambers.
The measure would have required schools to begin investigating a reported incident within one day and allowed schools to discipline students, with steps ranging from counseling to expulsion. It is legislation that would have empowered school administrators to address this serious issue.
The House passed the bill, but regrettably the Senate did not take it up in the hectic final week of the session. It’s disappointing our leaders failed to take action on this practical, needed measure.
Supporters now will have to wait at least another year and hope legislators can come together again for an effective bill to protect our schoolchildren.
_____
Joplin Globe, June 7
Public the last to know
In a single week, taxpayers living in the city of Joplin and taxpayers within the Joplin School District — many of them one and the same — found out they will be on the hook for some $450,000.
And that’s pretty much all they know. In a government system where exemptions allow doors to be closed and sometimes even locked, keeping the public in the dark is perfectly “legal.”
In our view, it doesn’t mean the law should be immune from public scrutiny and examination. Challenges are often necessary and in the public interest.
Earlier this week, the public learned that Joplin Schools Superintendent C.J. Huff’s departure — he had called it a “retirement” — comes with nearly a $300,000 payout and is not a retirement at all, nor was he fired or even reprimanded by the board. There’s something the public’s not getting — an explanation. That should have either come from Huff or the board. Yet, the law allows the secrecy and further fuels public resentment and frustration.
The Joplin City Council on Thursday locked the doors — yes, literally — as it met with representatives of the state auditor’s office, where it received the final audit report. That’s the same audit that was called when enough resident signatures were collected to require the state to do the audit. And that audit has exceeded the top end of the original estimate of $75,000 to $150,000. Taxpayer dollars will pay for that audit.
But none of you will see it for at least another 30 days. That’s how long the council gets to respond. Once that’s done, the state will come back and present it to the public.
All perfectly legal according to law.
“This is a standard exit meeting, which is part of the audit process,” said Gina Terlizzi, director of communications for state Auditor Nicole R. Galloway, in an email responding to Globe questions. “In accordance with Missouri law, information presented in the meeting is confidential.”
The public — the first to pay — will also be the last to know. A review of Missouri’s open meeting and records law by state legislators is in order as the number of doors closed to the public continues to grow.
_____
Jefferson City News-Tribune, June 5
‘To boldly go’ forward on I-70
With a nod to “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, a Missouri transportation commissioner wants I-70 “to boldly go where we have not gone before.”
That’s ambitious. Most motorists would settle for a safe, smooth ride to and from St. Louis and Kansas City, but traditional efforts to finance improvements have been stymied.
Stephen R. Miller, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, on Wednesday invited creative ideas for transforming the deteriorating, heavily traveled east-west corridor into a “Road to Tomorrow.”
He said a team of experts from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has been assembled to evaluate ideas submitted by private industry, entrepreneurs, innovators and others.
“Just as MoDOT’s design-build projects over the last decade have produced insights and innovations not previously imagined,” Miller said, “we are confident that offering free reign to human creativity and a designated site for implementation will generate the very best in American ingenuity.”
Gov. Jay Nixon also is on board. “As we continue to work to identify a solution to our transportation funding needs,” Nixon said, “I appreciate the Missouri Department of Transportation for taking a pro-active approach and embracing new technologies that will pave the way toward a brighter future.”
Will this outside-the-box approach work?
Who knows? We do know strides are being made exponentially — in vehicles, navigation, infrastructure, materials and more.
And the company, think tank or creative genius that makes the next major breakthrough in affordable, comfortable transportation stands to gain both fame and fortune.
The team of MoDOT evaluators — who will work without extra pay — plans to forward its findings to lawmakers when they convene in January.
Missouri motorists eagerly will await the results.