January 30, 2015

Governor Nixon’s involvement spurs Missouri transfer law discussion

More has been revealed during a state committee hearing about what Governor Jay Nixon (D) says he would accept in a change to Missouri’s student transfer law.

Senator David Pearce (Courtesy, Missouri Senate)

Senator David Pearce (Courtesy, Missouri Senate)

Senator David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) said the governor has shown a willingness to work with the legislature on the transfer issue, but he still doesn’t want anything that would allow public tax dollars to go to private schools, as the bill he vetoed last year would have done.

“If we took that out and we also took out some provisions that he felt did not help for transportation, then he would entertain the possibility of an expansion of charter schools and virtual schools,” Pearce told Missourinet.

Pearce’s committee is faced with combining four transfer proposals into one bill. One of those proposals comes from Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City), who has included a so-called “private option,” and has been adamant in her support of it, but she said what Nixon has offered could present an acceptable arrangement.

“The difference between this year and last year is the governor is offering options, and right now, having an open enrollment provision for charter schools that are qualified … I think provides more choice for students than the local private option, even thought I still like the local private option.”

Pearce said a proposal might be voted out of committee next week.

Missouri lawmakers push for civics test requirement for graduation

A group of bi-partisan lawmakers from both the House and Senate propose making a civics test a requirement for high school graduation.

The “Missouri Civics Education Initiative” would require every high school student to pass a United States Citizenship Civics test–the same one hundred question test immigrants are required to take for U.S. Citizenship–prior to receiving a diploma.  Students would need to score sixty percent or higher to pass the test.

Senator Jeanie Riddle speaks at a press conference with fellow lawmakers.

Senator Jeanie Riddle speaks at a press conference with fellow lawmakers.

Senator Ryan Silvey joined fellow members of the General Assembly to discuss the proposed legislation.  Silvey said it’s important for students to understand how their government and country operates.

“It’s something that is non-partisan.  Clearly, you can see we have House and Senate representation.  We have Republican and Democrat representation.  It’s something we’re all excited to get behind and we think it will make our students better prepared for the future,” said Silvey.

Senator Jeanie Riddle is a former teacher who said the goal is to make sure that our students are knowledgeable and interactive with our government.

“Our system of government is designed for informed citizens and participating citizens,” said Riddle.  “We have to make sure that they’re knowledgeable and have the ability to participate.”

State Representative Kathy Swan said she looks forward to working with her House and Senate colleagues on this initiative.  Swan said a broad basic knowledge of civics is necessary to be responsible citizens.

“As a nation, to better understand our present, properly prepare for our future, we need to fully have the knowledge of the present and of the past,” said Swan.

Arizona recently became the first state in the country to pass the Civics Education Initiative.  The language being proposed by the five Missouri lawmakers is similar to that passed in Arizona.

Several lawmakers took the civics test and shared their scores.  Senator Silvey said he found the questions to be very informative and scored a ninety-seven percent.  Senator Riddle said she spoke with Silvey and they both wanted to take the test prior to thinking about the legislation.  Riddle said she missed two and scored a ninety-eight percent.

Anti-bullying legislation to be offered in new session

When the new General Assembly convenes next week Missouri legislators will be asked, again, to pass a bill aimed at ending bullying in schools.

Representative Sue Allen (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Sue Allen (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) has filed her anti-bullying legislation for several sessions, but it didn’t get much attention last year, largely because she didn’t want it to be bogged down by the same debate as it had been in previous years.

“Basically the bill was stuck,” Allen told Missourinet.

The issue has been whether such a bill should enumerate, or specify groups that are protected from bullying based on things like sexual orientation, race, or religion. Several Democrats, particularly Senator Jolie Justus (D), wanted such specificity in the bill.

Allen doesn’t want it. She says having a list risks leaving someone out. Her proposals instead takes a blanket approach, saying it protects, “any student without exception,” and that, “Policies shall treat all students equally.”

“I’m not gonna get into discussions about which group is more precious than another group,” said Allen. “They’re all precious.”

Senator Jamilah Nasheed has filed a similar bill in the Senate.

Stories on past years’ legislation:

Lawmakers discuss status of bullying issue

Bullying debate to return to Missouri House

Dr. Margaret Vandeven named Missouri Education Commissioner

The state Board of Education has selected the state’s next Commissioner of Education.

Missouri Commissioner of Education-designee Dr. Margaret Vandeven (courtesy; Missouri Department of Education)

Missouri Commissioner of Education-designee Dr. Margaret Vandeven (courtesy; Missouri Department of Education)

It voted unanimously for Dr. Margaret Vandeven, who has been with the Department for nine years and has most recently served as the Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Learning Services. She will take over January 1, 2015 for Commissioner Chris Nicastro, whose retirement is effective at the end of this month.

In a statement, State Board president Peter Herschend wrote, “We believe in the positive impact of the Top 10 by 20 plan on Missouri’s children,” referring to the Department’s goal of getting Missouri students’ achievement in the top 10 of national rankings by 2020. “We strongly believe that Dr. Margie Vandeven is the right person to accomplish the goals of the plan.”

The Department says its Top 10 by 20 initiative will be a primary focus for Vandeven.

“I am honored to serve as Missouri’s Commissioner of Education, and I am committed to and focused on doing what’s right for the children of Missouri,” said Vandeven. “I stand ready to support our school districts and charter schools, working together to move Missouri into the top 10 in student performance.

Vandeven has been in education for 24 years. Prior to her work in the Department she spent 13 years as an English language arts teacher and administrator in private schools in Missouri and Maryland. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Education at Missouri State University, Master of Education at Loyola College in Maryland and Doctor of Philosophy at St. Louis University.

Governor Jay Nixon issued a statement congratulating Vandeven on being selected.

“I congratulate Dr. Vandeven on being named to this important post,” wrote Nixon. “Missouri’s Commissioner of Education plays a critical role in helping to ensure that all children in our state have the opportunity to go to a good public school where they will learn the skills and knowledge they need to find success in college or career. I look forward to working with Dr. Vandeven, educators and school leaders, and the Missouri General Assembly as we move forward toward our shared goal of continuing to improve the quality of education for students in every community.”

She will speak to the media in a conference call this afternoon. Watch for further news on her selection.


Board releases list of five Candidates for Ed Commissioner

The state Board of Education has narrowed to five its list of finalists to replace Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro at the end of this month.

They are Terry Adams, former superintendent at Rockwood and Wentzville, Douglas Hayter, superintendent at the Branson School District, C.J. Huff, superintendent at Joplin, Norman Ridder, interim superintendent at Mehlville and formerly at Springfield, and deputy education commissioner Margaret Vandeven.

The Board will meet next week to interview those candidates. They were selected from a field of 40 applicants and nominees.