, , ,

President Obama has called for all states to race to the top in education; but for the last ten years Missouri’s legislature has put us in a race to the bottom.

Ten years ago the Suburban Journals hosted a town hall forum with all of St. Charles County’s state representatives. I asked my teacher wife if was there anything she would like for me to tell them. She simply said, “Tell them I need help.”

I told the legislators of my wife’s struggle to educate a class where 24 out of 28 children were not reading at grade level. I asked if they were willing to support a $700 million increase to bring Missouri up to national average in per pupil spending; and if not, what advise did they have for my wife in teaching her students?  All I heard was a chorus of crickets.

In 1993, Missouri was under court order to provide more equitable school funding. To comply, Missouri passed the Outstanding Schools Act which required more accountability from schools while increasing funding by $310 million. By 2001, this would raise Missouri up to 30th in the nation in per pupil spending.

Since then, Missouri has fallen back into a race back to the bottom. The latest data shows Missouri at 41st in funding with teacher pay at a dismaying 48th. The singular cause for this decline is the lack of effort at the state level. While the average state funds 46 percent of school cost, our state is at a miserable 29 percent.

Over on the college side, the picture is even bleaker. Because of draconian cuts in college funding, tuition has doubled at state universities. The effect of this has been dramatic. Ten years ago, Missouri was above average nationally in the percent of our population with a bachelor’s degree or more. Now, we have fallen into the bottom third.

Last year at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce Capital Day, I asked a panel of legislative leaders, “In the last ten years Missouri has gone from 30nd to 41st in per pupil spending. What do you think of that?” Speaker of the House Steve Tilley answered, “Money isn’t the only thing. We have a reform agenda of charter schools, elimination of tenure, and merit pay.”

Because of the setting and my respect for his office, I restrained my anger; what I really wanted to shout was, “That’s not a plan that’s an excuse.”

What Tilley is telling Missouri’s teachers is insulting. To better educate her students, my wife needs lower class size and a longer school year not the frivolous carrot on a string of merit pay. She needs the skills of special needs teachers not the threat of loss of tenure. Where is the charter school which will take all my wife’s children and do a better job? The data is in and both nationally and here in Missouri charter schools are failing.

In last year Presidential debates, Mitt Romney put money in perspective when he said Massachusetts was number one in education. He’s right; but they didn’t get there with a “money isn’t the only thing” strategy. Massachusetts is spending over $16,000 per pupil which is almost 60 percent more than Missouri.

Meanwhile, here in Missouri almost 3000 teachers have been laid off, Parents as Teachers and pre-school programs cut, gifted education and arts programs gutted, and transportation and repair budgets reduced.

My exasperation over Missouri’s race to bottom led me to send an email out to friends asking them to stand up for public education. Two weeks later 23 people came to my house. We formed The Missouri Education Caucus to speak out in support of education. Recently we have been visiting school boards to present them with data on Missouri’s pathetic funding and asking them to stand up for public education.

Simultaneously, former state representative Gary Sharpe (D-Hannibal) was forming a similar group, Missouri Public School Advocates. For MPSA’s board, Gary has collected a virtual who’s who of educators and former state legislators now dedicated to stop Missouri’s decline.

The Missouri Education Caucus, MPSA, and the Missouri chapter of the national Save Our Schools have joined hands to carry the truth about Missouri’s inadequate funding of schools. We need your help.

If you are done with Missouri’s race to the bottom: join us. . If you are wondering how you can afford to send you child to college: join us. If you want no more teachers laid off, music and art programs cut, gifted and special needs children left fending for themselves: join us and speak out. It is our children’s future you will be defending.