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Education Tops Missouri Government's Agenda

December 13, 2000
By: John Sheridan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's next governor, like his predecessor -- the late Mel Carnahan -- has made education a cornerstone for his administration.

In fact, at the annual governor's conference on higher education last week, in Columbia, Bob Holden noted former Gov. Mel Carnahan's commitment to education, saying "he was truly an education governor in every sense of the word, and the foundation he laid, I want to build on as the next governor."

Missouri elementary and secondary education director Kent King says he is looking forward to a new year, and working with the new Holden administration.

"I am optimistic from the standpoint that he is really committed helping Missouri kids," King said of Holden.

One of the education issues Holden and House members, will face is the continued accreditation woes of the state's largest public school districts in Kansas City and St. Louis.

But King, who took over as director on Oct. 20, said he is not only concerned about accreditation, but is also interested in seeing a greater emphasis on early childhood education, saying the more structured the educational opportunities that exist for young children, the easier it is for them to learn later in life.

According to Rep. Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City, early childhood was one of the subjects discussed when legislators met at the 2000 Missouri Legislative Forum, in Osage Beach in December.

The forum was sponsored by the Danforth and Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundations. Organizers said it was a bi-partisan initiative.

"(The forum) attempts to provide Missouri legislators with an opportunity to learn about issues that affect Missouri in a very safe environment, before the hurly-burly of the legislative session," said Robert Koff, Danforth Foundation senior vice president.

Koff said almost one hundred Missouri legislators attended the event, including most freshmen.

Wilson is not a freshman, but helped decide what topics would be discussed at this year's forum.

"You don't come out with any solid conclusions, but at least we work on things together," Wilson said about the forum.

According to Wilson, other education issue legislators discussed was what to do about Kansas City and St. Louis public schools.

The Kansas City school district had its accreditation revoked in May, 2000, by the state Board of Education for not meeting minimum standards in the state's three areas of assessment, resources, processes and performance.

Carl Sitze, Missouri school improvement director, says in order for a district to be accredited it has to maintain a score of at least five out of eleven possible points in the assessment areas.

Rep. Henry Rizzo, D-Kansays City, said he is almost positive something will have to be done during the legislative session to help the urban districts, particularly in Kansas City.

"We can't continue floundering the way we are doing. I would hope they would overcome this on their own, but right now it doesn't look feasible," Rizzo said of the approximately 30,000 student Kansas City school district.

But the chairman of the House appropriations committee for education -- Rep. Scott Lakin, D-Kansas City -- said not all is bad with the district.

"A lot of good things are happening that do not get reported," Lakin said.

On the other side of the state, the St. Louis city school district has been given provisional accreditation because the district met at least part of the education requirements in the three areas assessed, but there are still accreditation and other problems in St. Louis that need to be resolved.

Rep. May Scheve, D-St. Louis, said accreditation is an issue legislators will have to not only face, but come up with new ideas in order to solve.

"It is one of the problems that has been looming over the education system for some time. I don't know if anybody has the answer," Scheve said.

But the accreditation issue is not the only one that will potentially be discussed by Missouri legislators during the 2001 legislative session.

Rep. Randall Relford, D-Cameron, has pre-filed legislation to revise the requirements for promotion of elementary students based on reading ability. Relford says the bill would give local school districts more individual control of student assessment.

He has also pre-filed a bill that restricts the ability of persons with criminal histories from obtaining or maintaining teacher certificates, making it more difficult for them to come in contact with children.

"There have been a couple of incidents with custodians in the southern part of the state," Relford said on why he pre-filed house bill 81.

Forfeiture is another issue Relford plans to address this session. He said currently when police impound money or property the funds are given to the government. Relford said he wants to make sure schools also benefit from these forfeitures and that the government is not the only beneficiary of these funds.