UPDATE: Senate approves millions in federal money for local school districts

Monday, April 18, 2011 | 8:48 p.m. CDT; updated 9:12 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 18, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate approved $189 million in federal money for local school districts, ending a near two-month-long standoff with the House.

The House passed the bill unanimously on Feb. 24, but the Senate had not taken up the measure until Monday.

Bill supporters said not passing the legislation would be an unfair burden to local school districts. Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said failure to pass the money would cost the school district $3 million.

The chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said it was important to pass the bill now since the funds expire on June 30 and must be spent solely on education.

"Our commitment was to keep funding for K-12 the same in 2012 as it was in 2011," Schaefer said.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, opposed the bill and said this money is not being spent to increase education funding.

"We are filling a budget hole somewhere else in our budget. We are funding other programs so we don't have to make hard decisions and make cuts," Lembke said.

Lembke said by passing the federal funds, the starting point for education funding next year could be lower. Lembke had earlier opposed using federal money to fund unemployment benefits, but relented after compromising with Senate leaders to reduce the number of weeks Missouri businesses pay for the unemployment benefits and cutting an additional $250 million in stimulus money.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, led the opposition to the bill on Monday. Cunningham said she does not want to keep giving school districts more money without also demanding higher student performance.

"This money is so precious and again the achievement is absolutely flat," Cunningham said.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, agreed with Cunningham.

"I think this is a great opportunity for us to show our tough love ... and I think those who are receiving state dollars at that point will then start to understand that these aren't dollars to play around with," Chappelle-Nadal said.

Debate on the bill focused on the lack of student achievement, but the state's fiscal policy was also discussed.

"I disagree with the fiscal policy we are putting in place relative to the utilization of one time funds without having any basic plans for what we do next year ... basically in my humble opinion is kind of kick the can down the road and deal with whatever hole we have," said Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

Revenue for the state's foundation formula, the mechanism for money distribution to school districts, has been held steady for the past few fiscal years despite decreases in state revenue.

Cunningham, along with five other senators voted against the proposal, while the remaining 28 senators voted in its favor. The bill now moves to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.

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fred smith May 2, 2011 | 4:45 p.m.

It is time we do away with the government school system completely. Replacing it with private schools, paid for by private dollars, and apprenticeship programs would better meet the needs of the students and society in general.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks May 2, 2011 | 7:23 p.m.

Fred. Then you run the chance of the cost per student being lowered each year. Costs of College would also drop.

(Report Comment)
fred smith May 2, 2011 | 9:20 p.m.

Yes, I see your point effective education would actually become affordable. Children would learn, bad teachers would be fired, and America might once more experience true academic excellence. What was I thinking? Thanks Corey. 

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 3, 2011 | 3:52 a.m.

fred smith wrote:

"Replacing it with private schools, paid for by private dollars, and apprenticeship programs would better meet the needs of the students and society in general."

Not necessarily. Students in private schools tend to perform better because their parents typically are more involved in their children's education. They also tend to be more advantaged in general. There's no necessary reason why a public school can't teach just as well as a private one other than that parental involvement.

We've seen a general loss of interest in education with our loss of manufacturing. Part of the reason northern schools were generally better than southern ones was the rust belt needed educated workers.

I'd think we'd see the same level of academic achievement if we put everyone in private schools with vouchers, unless we find a way to get parents more involved with their children's studies.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 3, 2011 | 6:21 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

I agree with your thesis to a point. That point is that private schools have the ability to limit class sizes and enforce discipline better than public schools. Both class size and discipline are important to educational results. Even the best teachers have problems with overcrowded class rooms and inability of many public school systems to enforce discipline.

Our family up to the present generation was strictly a product of public schooling, and several of the women became career public school teachers (one has a grade school in Newark, Delaware named for her, done while she was still alive). My two granddaughters will each have spent three years in public schools (middle school) and the remainder of their schooling in private schools*. We could see a definite difference between those three years and the remainder of their schooling, even though the public school system in question is considered to be one of the better ones in a metro area of 0.5 million.

The private high school requires that in addition to classes and academic graduation requirements all students must complete a substantial community service requirement, done on the student's own time. Can you imagine that in a public school system? Some jackass parents and their jackass attorney would sue the school system! My older granddaughter met part of that requirement repairing houses in Kentucky as part of a Protestant church volunteer group (even though the private school in question is Roman Catholic).

*- Not boarding schools; they have always lived at home.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 3, 2011 | 9:04 a.m.

Ellis Smith wrote:

"That point is that private schools have the ability to limit class sizes and enforce discipline better than public schools."

Agreed. I'm just wondering what would happen to that if a lot of public schools were privatized, and had to deal with some the students and parents they now have to deal with. Problem students don't stay at private schools (they get expelled), but they still have to be schooled by law, so they have to go somewhere.

I guess my point is that the superior performance of private schools has to do more with the quality and parental involvement of the students that attend them. Would private schools do better than public ones with problem students, especially if they had to go to one or the other school? Are there any private schools for problem students, especially low income ones? I don't think so.


(Report Comment)
frank christian May 3, 2011 | 9:12 a.m.

Mark F. - still won't address the role of the Federal gov't in our lives, in this case the destruction of our public school system. Here he has decided to substitute the "parent" for "gov't", as culprit. Many parents do not direct children properly. Can he, somehow, recognize that regulation and direction of it's funds have allowed Gov't to "dumb down" the system for those "dis-advantaged" to the detriment of the whole?
Federal gov't spent around 140B$ on education last year. If only parents are to blame for poor education of our children isn't it time for gov't to stop wasting money there?

(Report Comment)
fred smith May 3, 2011 | 10:00 a.m.

Apprenticeship programs would allow students not intent upon a college degree to leave the academic setting thereby freeing up classroom space and teacher time. These students could be educated in language arts, math and history until they entered an apprenticeship where they could learn the core of their chosen trade.

“There's no necessary reason why a public school can't teach just as well as a private one other than that parental involvement.”
Except of course the problems caused by: unions, i.e. tenure, the fact that school boards are unresponsive to parent grievances, special interest groups such as gay and lesbian groups and abortion rights groups have too much influence, gangs are present in many inner city schools, six year olds are arrested for using plastic knives, honor roll students are arrested for having knives LOCKED in the trunk of their cars… Yeah, other than that public schools are just like private schools.

Parent involvement would also be greater if school administrators did not take the position that they know better than parents how to address student needs. In fact parents would be better involved if teachers and school administrations understood that they are in the employ of the parents. Something that private school teachers do understand.

(Report Comment)

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