Missouri House panel to consider education issues

Saturday, July 6, 2013 | 4:22 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's education system will be the focus of a newly formed state House committee that will consider ways to improve outcomes and better prepare students for college and adulthood.

The House Interim Committee on Education has scheduled its first meeting for Thursday at the state Capitol. Among the new committee's first tasks will be deciding what education topics to examine during the summer and fall before lawmakers return to the Capitol in January for the next legislative session.

Committee members could review student transfers after the Missouri Supreme Court last month upheld a 20-year-old state law that requires unaccredited school districts to pay for students to attend other nearby schools. They also could focus on evaluations of teachers and administrators and Common Core standards for reading, writing and math.

Rep. Steve Cookson, who is leading the interim committee and also is the chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said education is a complex issue and that the interim committee should have more time to vet ideas than during the regular legislative session. Cookson is a Republican from Poplar Bluff and has worked as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent.

Cookson said the interim committee is assigned "to find common ground on some issues that we think would help improve education and educational opportunities for children around the state and that would have broad-based support."

House Speaker Tim Jones and majority Republicans have identified education as a priority but faced difficulties passing favored legislation. The House voted down a measure this year that called for school districts to implement an evaluation system for teachers and administrators to be used as the basis for employment decisions. Later, the chamber rejected an evaluation proposal limited to principals and administrators.

Lawmakers ultimately gave final approval to a bill that would eliminate a two-year waiting period before state education officials can intervene in a school district that has lost accreditation. The legislation is awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

The House's interim education committee was created by Jones, who said he wants members to use their expertise to develop bipartisan ideas that "deemphasize the educational bureaucracy" and focus on providing the best possible education.

"I want the committee to look at ways we can help our failing districts to better serve the education needs of our young people, and to develop policy solutions that can empower our best districts to do an even better job of preparing students for future success," said Jones, R-Eureka.

Cookson said he would like to have the committee hold meetings outside the state Capitol in several communities throughout the state.

The Republican committee members announced by the House are vice chairman Lyle Rowland of Cedarcreek; Charlie Davis of Webb City; Casey Guernsey of Bethany; Ron Hicks of St. Peters; Mike Lair of Chillicothe; Myron Neth of Liberty; Donna Pfautsch of Harrisonville; Bill Reiboldt of Neosho; Chrissy Sommer of St. Charles; Bryan Spencer of Wentzville; Rick Stream of Kirkwood; Kathy Swan of Cape Girardeau; and David Wood of Versailles.

The Democrats are Ira Anders of Independence; Michael Butler of St. Louis; Vicki Englund of St. Louis County; Margo McNeil of Florissant; Genise Montecillo of St. Louis County; Judy Morgan of Kansas City; and Tommie Pierson of St. Louis.

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