Senate finalizes resolutions combining education departments

Thursday, April 22, 2010 | 5:05 p.m. CDT; updated 5:23 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 22, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Following a sluggish Wednesday session, state senators unanimously approved two resolutions Thursday to ask voters whether the state should combine its two education departments. If approved, a single board would also oversee the state's entire public school system.

Senate action had stalled over arguments about how much power the new education board should have over higher education institutions. Ultimately, passage was assured when the version before the Senate made no substantive changes in the current level of independence by the various higher education institutions.

Currently, the Department of Higher Education and the Department of Secondary Education exist as separate entities, but proponents of one resolution say combining the two into a Department of Education would not only save the state millions of dollars but is also practical.

"Education should no longer be K through 12, it should be K through 16," Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said. "A high school diploma today is not what a high school diploma was 10 years ago." 

One resolution would dissolve the current Coordinating Board of Higher Education, and the other would create the Board of Education, responsible for overseeing kindergarten through the completion of undergraduate education.

The new board would not take any new powers and continue to be subject to state law.

After the discussing the size and term limit for the board, the Senate decided the board would consist of six members appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate to serve six-year terms.

The first round of board members, however, would be an exception. In order to stagger the appointees, two members would serve a two-year term, two more would serve four years and the remaining two would serve the full six-year term.

No more than three members can be from a single political party.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, successfully offered an amendment that would increase Senate's oversight over the selection process of the board's commissioner.

The resolution now goes to the House.

Because the resolutions would alter the state Constitution, they would go on November's ballot for the approval of voters. If the resolutions pass, they would go into effect July 1, 2011.

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