September 2, 2014

‘Tin foil hats’ line item leads to tin foil-covered desk for representative

A day after one House Committee proposed budgeting for tin foil hats to make a statement about opposition to Common Core Standards for public education, another House Committee will hear a proposal to bar the implementation of those standards in Missouri.

A picture circulating on Twitter late Wednesday night shows the desk of Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe) in the Missouri House of Representatives' Chamber covered in tinfoil. (courtesy of Twitter user @abemesser)

A picture circulating on Twitter late Wednesday night shows the desk of Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe) in the Missouri House of Representatives’ Chamber covered in tinfoil.
(courtesy of Twitter user @abemesser)

The House Appropriations Committee on Education on Wednesday approved a recommended budget for K-12 education that includes $8 for tin foil hats. The line item’s exact language reads, “For two rolls of high-density aluminum to create headgear designed to deflect drone and/or black helicopter mind reading and control technology.”

The provision was inserted by the committee’s chairman, Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe), who intended it to suggest that some lawmakers’ opposition to the Common Core Standards is based on paranoia.

Some opponents of Common Core tie it to things like the collecting of data on students and indoctrination of children.

Lair told the committee, “When you deal with conspiracy theorists, you do logic first.”

He noted legislation he filed that would limit the sharing of data and that would prevent the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) from mandating curriculum or textbooks.

“If you can’t deal with folks with logic,” Lair continued, “I always felt you use humor.”

The jibe may have earned Lair a measure of in-kind retribution. A photo circulated late Wednesday night on Twitter showed his desk in the House of Representatives’ Chamber covered in tin foil, along with his chair, laptop, voting box and microphone stand.

Representative Mike Lair (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Mike Lair (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The appropriation bill containing the $8 for tin foil goes to the full House Budget Committee for consideration.

Thursday the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to hear a bill filed by Representative Kurt Bahr (R-St. Charles) that would prevent the State Board of Education from adopting and DESE from implementing Common Core State Standards. It would void all actions taken to adopt those standards after its effective date, August 28, and would make any statewide education standard subject to the approval of the General Assembly. 

That hearing is scheduled to begin 30 minutes after the House adjourns for the morning in House Hearing Room 3, in the Capitol basement.

House Committee recommends $100-million increase for K-12 education

The House Appropriations Committee on Education has proposed less than half of the $278-million for the foundation formula for K-12 education that Governor Jay Nixon (D) recommended in his budget proposal.

Representative Mike Lair (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Mike Lair (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Chairman of that Committee, Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe), says the reason is simple.

“Because the Governor’s $278-million was smoke and mirrors. It didn’t exist,” says Lair.

Nixon’s budget proposal was based on a budget estimate that is higher than that agreed to by House and Senate budget leaders, and based on that higher estimate Nixon budgeted the $278-million figure as part of an overall proposed $489-million increase for education overall.

Lair says after being a teacher for 40 years, he is willing to put in the budget for K-12 education what he thinks is available and would include more if he could.

“I just can’t in good conscience spend money I don’t have,” says Lair.

What he thinks is available is $100-million, which is what the committee has included in its recommendation.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Lair says of that amount of an increase.

The committee also recommends $43-million dollars for a 5-percent performance-based increase for 2-year and 4-year higher education institutions. Governor Nixon had proposed $42-million for performance-based increases of 5-percent for 4-year colleges and 4-percent for 2-year colleges.

The budget bills the committee has advanced are HB 2002 and HB 2003.

House rejects teacher performance evaluation proposal

The House has strongly rejected a teacher evaluation bill that was a priority for the Majority Republican leadership.

Representative Kevin Elmer (R-Nixa) sponsored the proposal that would have created a teacher evaluation system.

“To say that the system is OK is offensive to me. To say that we’re doing all we can, I contend, is untrue. To say that we accept the status quo, I say ‘No.’”

The legislation would have tied teacher performance evaluations to student growth. More than 50 members of Elmer’s own party helped vote it down.

See the legislation, HB 631

Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) also voted against it. She says the state is already evaluating performance.

“We have a new evaluation system that we had through the waiver process and I was concerned that this would interfere with that.”

Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee on Education, spoke against the bill on the floor. He said it reflects a concept that is a wrong approach to education.

“I don’t want our education legislation to be put forth on a business model. If education was a business we wouldn’t keep half of the students we have. We need to educate them all. To do so, you can’t use a business model.”

Following more than an hour-and-a-half of debate that wrapped up at almost midnight, the House failed to perfect the bill 55-102.

House passes prevailing wage exemption for schools

The House has approved a bill to exempt most school districts in the state from prevailing wage law.

Representative Casey Guernsey (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Casey Guernsey (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Backers of the bill say many schools, particularly in rural parts of the state, have to put off construction and maintenance projects or leave them undone because they can’t afford to pay wages at the prevailing level.

The sponsor, Representative Casey Guernsey (R-Bethany), says schools are having to pay significantly more for the same work that costs private businesses much less. He says this change will let projects proceed that have been put off or gone undone.

“In my previous district and my current district I have and currently represent a little over 30 school districts. Every single one of them have a major project that it is imperative we allow them to solve.”

Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe) says to him the proposal is not a labor bill but an education bill. He says it would free up more money in school districts that right now has to go to construction projects.

“Every dollar not used to fund that teacher in the classroom is a wasted dollar. We need to make sure the money that our taxpayers use that goes to education is used most profitably for the teacher, for the children.”

Democrats like Representative Michael Frame (D-Eureka) say the legislation is about labor and wages.

“I’ve heard it admitted on this House floor that if this legislation is successful, wages will be cut.”

Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis City) tells proponents their bill will hurt workers.

“You’re also going to have to go back to your constituents and say, ‘Hey, I cut your pay. You’re making less money, and in fact … that bus coming up from Texas? Those folks are going to be doing your jobs. So not only did I cut your pay, but you’re going to be out of a job.”

The bill exempts school districts in counties that do not have a charter form of government from prevailing wage requirements.

It now goes to the Senate.

Work continues toward formula for higher education funding

Two legislative committees have revisited a model of what could go into a higher education funding formula that would include performance-based funding. 

A presentation that was first offered to the Joint Committee on Education last month was given to the House Budget Committee on Education and the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.  The model is based on public hearings of the Joint Committee held last year, what education policy makers had to say, study of other states’ practices and reports and recommendations from more than two decades of earlier work by task forces, committees and commissions.

The model would have the state provide 35 percent of an institution’s operating costs. 10 percent of that would be tied to performance in five criteria.

See the model proposal for higher education funding in Missouri (pdf).

Joint Committee Chairman Senator David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) says people are anxious.

“In early October I had people come to me and want a spreadsheet. They wanted to know exactly how does this affect my college, where are we, and we hadn’t even finished the hearing process. So what we’re trying to do is to get an objective view … what do you think should go into a formula on performance funding? Then when you get all those ideas … you put the spreadsheet out and see how it affects the institutions, and believe me then there will be a lot more discussion after that.”

Pearce says creation of that spreadsheet will begin next month.

Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) says she understands wanting to reward good outcomes, but she is worried about what the formula will mean for some community colleges.

“Those institutions that are struggling in some areas … how are they going to be able to improve their performance when we’re decreasing their funds which are already at very, very low dollar amounts?”

Joint Committee Executive Director Stacy Preis says one of the recommendations is the inclusion of a stop-loss provision.

“That would avoid large, sudden shifts in funding. A stop-loss is different from what you may be familiar with as a hold harmless provision in the K-12 formula in that a stop-loss guarantees a certain percentage of current funding. Not the absolute amount of current funding but that could be 95 percent, 98 percent, something like that.”

See what institutions said in reply to the funding model presented in December.

Preis expects one of the debates in the creation of a formula will be whether that performance-based funding is a bonus on top of a base appropriation.

“Is it important to us or not, to emphasize performance. If it is, then it is and if it’s just a bonus that will be nice if we have money then it’s just a bonus that will be nice if we have the money, but nothing makes it go away faster than having it just be considered as an add-on.”

Chairman of the House Budget Committee on Education, Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe) says he doesn’t know which way he’s leaning on that debate yet.

“We’ve taken mountains of testimony … it’s to the point where we need to start making those decisions and then feed in the numbers, feed in the institutions and see how it runs.”

Lair says to have the proposal ready to employ in 2015, the legislature has to be developing it now.

“Especially when you see the way that our higher institutions of learning are spread around the state, everybody becomes very parochial with them. If anything looks as if it’s going to hurt theirs, then of course it becomes a negative, and so it could take two years to get it through.”