March 5, 2015

Missouri senators threaten budget cuts for schools that fail to stop bullying

State Senators have reacted to a report of the beating of an autistic boy at a Kansas City-area middle school with a threat to cut funding when schools don’t prevent such incidents.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (left) has been voted the chairman of the Joint Committee on Governmental Accountability, which Senator Eric Schmitt is also a member of.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (left) and Senator Eric Schmitt spoke about the recent attack on a 12-year-old student at the Liberty Middle School and a possible response in the state budget.

A 12-year-old boy spent several days in the hospital and suffered a fractured jaw and skull and damaged inner ear after the attack at the Liberty Middle School. His family says it had warned school officials that the attacker had bullied his older brother and says those warnings went unheeded.

Senator Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) said that part of the story, reported extensively by the Kansas City Star, troubled him.

“The grandfather, according to the news reports, sent a certified letter weeks ahead of time. Certified, which means that he knew that something was going to happen and he knew that unfortunately when it happened, he was going to have to prove that he tried to warn them,” said Silvey.

Talking with Silvey, whose district includes Liberty, and other senators in the state Senate chamber, Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) said it sounds as though Liberty school officials failed in their jobs.

“I don’t know what has to happen for some of these folks to start paying attention, but I think part of the strategy might be, you know what? All the dollars that you claim that you … some of that might be at risk if you don’t do your job,” said Schmitt.

He spoke with the Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Kurt Schafer (R-Columbia) about keeping the Liberty story in mind during the budget process that will unfold in the next couple of months.

“For us to begin to think of ways to have carrots and sticks,” said Schmitt, “when it comes to people not doing their job who get millions of dollars from the state every year.”

Schmitt says he will again handle legislation to require schools to have an anti-bullying policy.  Such bills have stalled in past sessions over a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about whether to specify what groups a policy would protect, such people who identify as having a certain sexual orientation, race or religion.

Senate to debate school transfer bill this week

The state Senate is expected to debate proposed changes to the student transfer law this week.

Senator David Pearce (Courtesy, Missouri Senate)

Senator David Pearce (Courtesy, Missouri Senate)

Four bills had been proposed that would take different approaches at changing the law that lets students in poor-performing schools transfer to better performing ones, at the expense of the sending school. A Senate Committee combined those into one.

Senator David Pearce says one goal is to reduce the number of students transferring.

“As opposed to crediting by entire districts, what we want to do is have an accreditation process by building, so if students are in unaccredited buildings, they would have the option to go to accredited buildings in their district before they transfer out,” Pearce told Missourinet.

Pearce says Governor Jay Nixon’s influence means this year’s bill won’t include a so-called “private option,” that would have let tax dollars to go private schools in some circumstances.

“He said if that wasn’t in … he would entertain an expansion of charter schools and entertain an expansion of virtual schools, and so that’s kind of where Senate Bill 1 is headed this year,” said Pearce.

Nixon said that provision caused him to veto last year’s version of the bill.

Some have criticized that the bill goes too far.

“The transfer issue should focus on those students in unaccredited districts, and I do think version that came out of the Senate Education Committee goes beyond that, and I think it’s almost an open enrollment for virtual schools for the entire state,” said Pearce. “That’s probably something that we will take a look at as we debate on the floor.”

The senate will not be in session today due to weather, so it’s debate schedule for the rest of the week could be adjusted as well.


Missouri House bill would block college aid to immigrant students

A bill aimed at barring some immigrant students from getting state aid for higher education funding will be heard in a House committee today.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) says the Department of Higher Education is attempting through a rule change to extend free tuition to some immigrant students who, through action by the Obama Administration in 2012, were once considered to be in the country illegally but no longer face deportation.

Fitzpatrick says there are some Missouri citizens who risk not getting help to get into college.

“I think it’s a bad policy to give a better tuition rate to illegal immigrants than to give to United State citizens and in some cases Missouri citizens,” Fitzpatrick told Missourinet.

Fitzpatrick has proposed a bill that would bar anyone without legal status from getting state higher education aid.

“My feeling is if they’re here illegally they shouldn’t be getting public money to go to college. I think that’s kind of contrary to what we need to be doing to try and prevent people from coming here the wrong way,” said Fitzpatrick.

Testimony for and against Fitzpatrick’s proposal will be heard today.

The legislation is HB 187.

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.