JEFFERSON CITY - Power to choose the people who set Missouri's secondary education agenda would shift from the governor to the voters under a plan presented by Missouri House Republicans.
"It's a matter of trusting the voters," said House GOP Leader Delbert Scott of Lowry City, in presenting the GOP plan for direct election of the state School Board.
Currently, the eight members of the Missouri Board of Education are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Under the Republicans' plan, which requires changing the state's constitution, the number of board members would be increased from eight to nine, one elected from each congressional district. Scott said the transition would begin in the 2002 elections, and each term would last four years instead of the current eight.
Direct election of members would mean more citizen input into the board's philosophy, Scott said. He said it would also help teachers.
"The message we heard when we talked to teachers was that there was too much paperwork and reporting," Scott said. "They told us, 'Let us teach.'"
Switching to direct elections would be a bit of a gamble for the party, Scott said, because the Republicans could end up with fewer seats than they have now.
"Anybody could win," Scott said.
That's because by law, the governor can't appoint more than four members of the same party to the eight-member board, which is currently split, four Republicans to four Democrats.
The GOP idea split the top Democratic education leaders in the legislature.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Ted House, D-St. Charles, offered his immediate endorsement of the idea.
"Anytime we can bring more accountability to any of the bureaucracy, particularly the education bureaucracy, it's a good thing," House said.
But his House counterpart, House Education Committee Chairman Steve Stoll, D-Festus, questioned the wisdom of injecting partisan politics into education policy.
The former Senate Education Committee Chairman - Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler - was more blunt in his opposition.
"It is not a time a time when we need to start subjecting the education of our child to the political debate of electing school board members."
The Missouri NEA does not have a formal position on how state board members ought to be selected, President Donna Collins said. Instead, She cited some of the pros and cons of the idea.
"Direct election could clearly focus the public on education issues, more so than they are now," Collins said.
Collins said that while direct election within congressional districts would allow geographic representation to continue, it wouldn't necessarily reduce paperwork for teachers. She said that both the Education Department and the legislature could do that now.
The cost of running a campaign for a non-salaried position might discourage candidates from seeking board seats, Collins said.
Scott outlined other agenda items for the Republican Caucus, including renewing its effort to pass a charter school bill. He said the caucus would also push for tax cuts, including raising the income-tax deduction for dependents, property tax relief and immediate implementation of the phased-in cut in the income tax on private pensions.
Scott said the Republicans would join the Democrats in fighting growing methamphetamine use and production in Missouri. He discounted suggestions that either party was increasing its focus on the issue to appear to be tough on crime during an election year.
"There's not going to be any one-upmanship on this issue," Scott said. "We're determined to get it resolved."
The Democrats currently hold 85 seats in the House. There are 75 Republicans, one independent and two vacant seats. The Democrats also hold a majority in the Senate, 19-15.