NP Spotlight: Volume 6
NP Spotlight is a regular (weekly-ish) feature providing updates on local and statewide legislation and governance, links to significant information, and general news about Northland Progress.
House narrowly approves charter school expansion, northland legislators split on the issue
On Thursday morning, the Missouri House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill that would allow charter school expansion in the state of Missouri. Charter schools are run privately but paid for with taxpayer dollars, posing a threat to proper funding of our public schools.
After debate late into Wednesday night and several proposed amendments, the approved version of HB 634 would allow a charter school to open in any school district if the district contains a single building that has a score of 60% or less for two (2) of the previous three (3) years.
There are several problems with the bill, just a few of which are discussed here. First, the bill allows a charter school serving any grade level to open in a district if just one school serving any grade level begins to underperform. So if an elementary school was underperforming in your school district, a charter high school could open as a result. A charter high school would obviously be of no help to students of the failing elementary school.
Second, there is no requirement that the charter school open in the same geographic area as the low performing traditional school building. Instead, a charter school could open on the other side of the district. There also is no requirement that the charter school provide transportation to the students from the low performing public school. Therefore, if the child has no means of getting to and from the school each day, the affected child will be unable to take advantage of this “choice.”
Third, while HB 634 (finally) requires that the charter school board members be Missouri residents, it does not require that the board members reside in the community in which the school operates, unlike school board members of traditional schools. Without a nexus between the board members and the community, accountability is once again a major concern. While the amended bill includes some measures to improve accountability (requiring financial audits before charter renewal, requiring charter schools to meet federal and state performance standards), education groups such as the Missouri National Education Association, Missouri State Teachers Association, and Missouri Council of School Administrators remain ardently opposed for good reason.
To put this bill in local perspective by way of a hypothetical, if there were an elementary school failing in the northern Park Hill School District near KCI airport, HB 634 would allow a new charter high school to be opened in Riverside, funded by taxpayer dollars, and run privately by board members from St. Louis and Cape Girardeau.
Despite thriving public schools in their districts and the clear problems with HB 634, several northland legislators voted YES on the bill: Reps. Nick Marshall (R-Parkville), Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City), Galen Higdon (R-Weston/St. Joseph), Delus Johnson (R-St. Joseph), and T.J Berry (R-Excelsior Springs). If just two of those legislators had voted against HB 634, northland public schools would not be facing this prospective funding threat.
Many northland legislators deserve recognition for standing up for our schools against against immense pressure from special interest groups (e.g. Jeb Bush was flown into Jefferson City a couple of weeks ago to lobby for the bill). Reps. Lauren Arthur (D-NKC), Jon Carpenter (D-Gladstone), Mark Ellebracht (D-Liberty), Pat Conway (D-St. Joseph), Jim Neely (R-Cameron), Kenneth Wilson (R-Smithville), and Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton) all voted against HB 634.
HB 634 will now head to the Missouri Senate for consideration. We urge you to contact your state senator (and representative in case the bill is amended and comes back to the House) and ask them to vote NO on HB 634.
Trump budget would slash funding for EPA, science and medical research, local community development
President Trump has proposed a budget that would decimate the EPA’s ability to safeguard clean air and water. The President’s proposal would slash about one third of EPA’s funding, resulting in a loss of 20% of its workforce and elimination of fifty programs in their entirety (including a grant helping states and cities fight air pollution). There is also worry that the budget cuts will affect the EPA’s ability to clean up hazardous waste sites managed under the Superfund program, which have included multiple Clay County sites in the past.
The president also proposed a seismic cut for investment in scientific and medical research that left scientists and medical researchers aghast. The proposal would cut funding for the National Institute of Health by $6 billion – about a fifth of its annual budget. More than 80% of the NIH’s budget goes to grants for universities and other research centers. Leading scientists and researchers predict that this could leave American scientific progress with a “lost generation” in comparison with other nations.
But wait, there’s more…the White House’s proposed budget would hit low income citizens the hardest by cutting funding for programs like the Community Development Block Grant program by about $3 billion. Programs like Meals-On-Wheels and Northland Neighborhoods, Inc. (set to receive $250,000 this year to improve local homes) receive funding from these grants. The president’s cuts would also hit rural and farm programs hard, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture would face sizable cuts of 21% in discretionary spending, and eliminate after-school programs for needy children across the nation.
Call Congressman Sam Graves at (202) 225-7041, and tell him to reject the president’s proposed budget cuts.
Corlew seeks solution to transportation funding woes
Northland Rep. Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City) is looking to establish a task force to evaluate the state’s highway system and determine what the funding needs are. MODOT Director Patrick McKenna has repeatedly asked the legislature to increase spending to maintain roads and make safety improvements, and he estimates the need at an additional $500 million per year.
Corlew has introduced a bill that would make portions of I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis a toll road, but the bill so far has very little support among his Republican colleagues. It bears mentioning that the obvious solution is raising Missouri’s fuel tax, which is among the lowest in the nation and has not been raised since 1996. Last year the Senate passed a bill that would raise the tax, but it was rejected by the House of Representatives. Apparently the state senator will not raise that bill again this session, and will instead defer to the House to find a solution.
Missouri has the 7th largest road and bridge system in the country, but ranks a dismal 47th in revenue per mile.