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How Educated Are Your Kansas and Missouri State Legislators?

Missouri State Capitol Building

This summer, in an article titled “How Educated Is Your Legislature?,” The Chronicle of Higher Education asked the following question: “In our representative democracy, should those who make the laws reflect the entire citizenry, or should they be chosen from an educated elite?” In exploring that question, Chronicle reporters compiled information on the education of state legislators across the United States. According to their findings, Kansas and Missouri state legislators are less well-educated than many of their counterparts nationwide.

The KC Education Enterprise took a closer look, examining statistics for members of the education committees of the Kansas and Missouri state legislatures. These are the people who are responsible for all state school policy and funding legislation. In doing so, we discovered that members of the education committees in Kansas and Missouri are an educated elite when compared with other state residents.

In Kansas about 80 percent of residents are not college-educated, and in Missouri, about 85 percent. However, only about 30 percent of state legislators in the two states lack college educations. The difference between legislators and the people they represent becomes even more marked when examining the backgrounds of members of the education committees. About 80 percent of education committee members in Kansas are college-educated and at least 90 percent in Missouri. The Education Enterprise compiled this data from information available on the websites of the Kansas and Missouri state legislatures and Project Vote Smart, an independent non-partisan source of information on political candidates and office holders in the United States.

Since the earliest days of constitutional government in this country, there has been ongoing debate regarding the importance of higher education for elected officials. Alexander Hamilton — himself a college graduate and attorney — wrote essay 35 of the Federalist Papers in response to widespread concern that legislators under the proposed U.S. Constitution would not be representative of all classes of citizens.

“It is said to be necessary, that all classes should have some of their own number in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be the better understood and attended to,” Hamilton wrote, adding that the “representative body, with too few exceptions to have any influence on the spirit of government, will be composed of landholders, merchants, and men of the learned professions. But where is the danger that the interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens will not be understood or attended to by these three descriptions of men?”

Nationwide, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education report, about 75 percent of state legislators nationwide have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. The most educated state legislature is located in California, while the least educated is in New Hampshire. Closer to home, our neighbor to the north — Nebraska — scored in the top five, while our southern neighbor — Arkansas — scored in the bottom five.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:UserKTrimble-AP_of_Missouri_State_Capitol_Building.jpg

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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