Members of Missouri’s House of Representatives have ambitious plans to tackle tough education issues during their 2012 legislative session, which convened last Wednesday and runs through May. However, Republicans and Democrats in the House appear divided about the type of legislation needed.
During his opening speech, Speaker of the House Steven Tilley (R-St. Genevieve), spoke of the need to cut spending in the state in order to balance the budget. He also emphasized the importance of legislation to provide more stable funding for public education and to assist failing schools in the state, such as those in the Kansas City, Missouri district.
“For too many years, we’ve done nothing to help Missouri children in failing school districts,” he said. “As your Speaker, I make the pledge to thousands of Missouri’s children currently in failing schools. You are not forgotten, and we’ll fight each and every day here in the Missouri House to give you the quality education that every child deserves.”
During a press conference that same day, Tilley said that although Republicans want to work with Democrats to address tough education issues this session, he also made it clear that his majority party wants something in return. Specifically, he expects to pass legislation related to education programs favored by Republicans, such as tuition vouchers and charter schools.
“Listen,” Tilley said, speaking into a rack of reporters’ microphones outside the Capitol Building in Jefferson City, “since I’ve been up here for seven years, every year we try to go outside the box and try and do something for education reform, and every year they come with reasons why ‘No, you can’t do that,’ and ‘No, we shouldn’t do that.’ So we end up getting the status quo. Well, that seven years we shuffled thousands and thousands of kids through failing schools because we weren’t willing to change the status quo. I’m tired of that, and we’re going to do something about it this year.”
Democrats, on the other hand, do not appear to have such an aggressive education agenda for the 2012 legislative session.
Speaking at a press conference on behalf of the minority party, Rep. Mike Talboy (D-Kansas City) predicted state legislators this session would not rewrite the school funding formula. Rather, he said, he thought they would freeze the existing formula. He then recommended taking time between this year’s session and next to craft new legislation.
“This isn’t something that you do in two or three months,” Talboy said. “It’s something that you’re going to have to do over a much longer period of time.”
In addition, he — like Tilley — emphasized the importance of addressing the needs of students in unaccredited districts. Of special concern, he said, was the fact that students from Kansas City are moving out of Missouri to the Kansas side of the state line to attend schools there, many of which are highly rated.
And he spoke about the spending cuts the Republicans are urging in order to balance the budget.
“Businesses don’t cut their way to prosperity,” the House Minority Leader said. “Government doesn’t cut its way to prosperity. Households don’t cut their way to prosperity.”
Members of the House of Representatives spent most of their time last week reading into the record bills that legislators had pre-filed before the session began. Although there were more than 180 pre-filed bills, only about 10 are related to education issues. In contrast, state Senators pre-filed about 20 education-related bills.
Only two pre-filed bills in the House relate to topics emphasized by Tilley and Talboy in their opening-day statements. The first seeks to change the state’s school funding formula. Another seeks to give the State Board of Education authority to determine alternative governing structures for failing school districts.
Other pre-filed bills related to education seek to:
- require school districts to report information regarding their gifted education programs and number of students served
- specify the number of school board members in certain districts
- change the law regarding bullying in schools
- regulate prevailing wage laws for schools in disaster areas
- require the state Office of Administration to maintain public school accountability information online
- change the deadline for renewing teacher contracts
- modify the law regarding spanking in schools
- allow school nurses to use asthma-related rescue medications on students in need.
The Missouri House has been adjourned since last Thursday and will reconvene this afternoon at 4 p.m.
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