September 15, 2014

Gov. Nixon releases withheld education money, cites veto session outcomes

Governor Jay Nixon has released $143.6-million dollars of the money he was withholding from local schools and higher education, after the state legislature failed to overturn a number of bills Nixon said threatened state revenue.

Nixon says more releases could be coming.

Lawmakers in the veto session that ended early Thursday morning only overturned Nixon’s vetoes on a few of the ten bills he called “Friday Favors;” bills he said would cost the state $425-million annually, and would cost local governments another $351-million a year. Nixon spent much of the summer traveling the state campaigning against the bills and urging that his vetoes be sustained.

Nixon today released more than $100-million for the foundation formula for K-12 education and more than $43-million in performance funding for public colleges and universities.

“I thank members of the General Assembly for taking a closer look at these bills, listening to their constituents and standing with their schools,” write’s Nixon in a statement.

Missouri Teacher of the Year has learning experience – in Ferguson (AUDIO)

Missouri’s Teacher of the Year has had some painful learning experiences of his own in recent weeks.

Hazelwood West High school teacher Chris Holmes helped develop a program that has helped at-risk students find the hope and confidence they need to graduate.  He sponsors a poetry club whose members engage in contests where they perform their own works.

But his main job is teaching journalism.  Last month he went to Ferguson to gather ideas for his class.  What he gathered on the first night of demonstrations and violence was a brick to the side of the head causing a wound that took six stitches to close.

He says a lot of people have asked how he thinks journalists have covered the Ferguson riots.  He says the coverage shows the difference between journalism theory and the reality of the business, which sometimes is ugly. “At the time they are reporting on the truth that they see, however skewed it may seem once other facts come out…It may not look pretty as it comes out but we need people to do that,” he says.

Holmes says it’s necessary to ask if some things in Ferguson coverage were necessary, excessive, or even journalism.  But he says his experience has given him a lot of material to discuss ethics, responsibility, and compassion in covering the news.

AUDIO: Holmes interview 24:32



Changes to higher education funding formula take effect today (AUDIO)

The way Missouri taxpayers fund higher education is changing today.

A new law requires state colleges and universities to set standards for student retention, graduation rates, and job placement.   Ninety percent of any proposed funding increase for any given school will be based on whether the school has met its own standards.

The schools could set easily-achievable goals but the sponsor of the bill, Senator David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), doesn’t think that’s likely.  “I’m very confident universities will come up with rigorous standards…The department of higher education…will have some input to say, ‘…this really probably isn’t strong enough,’” he says.

The legislature, which appropriates money to the institutions, also can evaluate the standards.  He says Universities that don’t achieve will get smaller funding increases, or no increases, a situation that will send a message to a university’s governing board members that things need to be improved.

The bill is becoming law today but its impact won’t be felt until the next state budget is written.

AUDIO: Pearce interview 17:07

Most Missouri children have their school shots (AUDIO)

Most of the school children starting classes in Missouri have gotten their required immunizations.  But many have not. Most of the children got their first immunizations before they were three years old. Some have had booster shots before the opening of their schools.

State Health Department figures say better than eight in ten children get immunizations for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus immunizations early on.  More than nine out of ten have their anti-polio shots as well as those for measles and mumps.  The same for hepatitis B and chickenpox.

The state school immunization law allows people with religious objections or with health conditions to be exempt.

Health Department spokesman Ryan Hobart says there are some shots that people might want to get even if they’re not required.  College students, he notes, might want to get anti-meningitis shots, especially if they will be living in dormitories.  A new state law effective next July will require students living in dormitories at state institutions of higher education to have those shots.

The Health Department web page lists the immunizations that are required and when they should be administered:

Education officials to state Board: drop in student assessment scores not cause for concern

Missouri education officials don’t know why student test scores are down, but they’re telling the State Board of Education not to worry.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

On Missouri Assessment Program tests, 2 percent fewer public school students passed communication arts this year and point-seven percent fewer students passed in math. Third and fourth grade communication arts scores and fourth grade math scores saw declines between 6 and 8 percent.

Curriculum assessment coordinator Michael Minx says work to identify a cause has failed.

“We’ve spent time lining up school districts by achievement and number of days in school,” he says, as an example of one technique used. “That showed some drops some places and some gains some places, so you really couldn’t see a pattern there. I’ve had some folks contact me and say, ‘Well yeah, that for us … our instruction was kind of crazy this past year so it makes sense. Other people, it doesn’t make sense.”

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro says the Department has always said a year-to-year change in scores is not worth getting excited over.

“A one year decline in scores is not something that we need to press the panic button over,” says Nicastro, who says scores have been steadily improving in recent years. “We have had an upward trend, so what we’ve said here with this Board and the Department repeatedly is that you can’t use one year of data to make any determinations. We rely on multiple years of data … to make good decisions.”

Nicastro says it is good news that more than 300 districts in the state progressed in either math or communication arts or both.

“While the statewide average did go down, and we’re certainly disappointed about that, I think what’s really important is to look at where the increases happened, what they were doing to make that kind of improvement, and what it is in those districts that did not improve that caused them to go down,” says Nicastro.

Districts will not receive individual results until late this month. Nicastro says when they do, they can begin to look for their own answers.