JEFFERSON CITY - In an attempt to keep gifted children at the forefront of education, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, is sponsoring a bill to create positions within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to oversee all of the gifted education programs throughout the state of Missouri.
The person appointed as commissioner would be responsible for identifying potential funding sources for programs, serving as the main contact throughout the state and developing an approval process for new programs. In addition, the commissioner would be able to appoint seven volunteer members to a committee that would act as advisers.
Gifted education programs have a long history in the state of Missouri, starting in 1973 when programs first received funding. During the 1970s, approximately 75 percent of materials and teachers for gifted programs were paid for by the state, Sara Lampe, a former Missouri representative and school teacher, said.
"We at one time in history had lots of resources dedicated to gifted education," Schaefer said.
However, in recent years, this percentage has decreased with a shift to a funding source outside the state budget until in 2005, when money was no longer designated toward gifted education.
Lampe said she believes that any new legislation introduced will have limited potential unless additional funding is given to gifted programs.
"Until the state of Missouri again says we need to look out for gifted kids, you are writing off an entire segment of our children's' population," Lampe said.
Schaefer said that although this bill may have small implications at first, it will make way for bigger changes in gifted education programs of the future.
"It may be incremental, but it is a step in the right direction," Schaefer said.
Robin Lady, a gifted education specialist at Crestview Middle School, emphasized the importance of gifted education programs for the 45,000 students currently identified as gifted within the state of Missouri.
Lady said that more students will likely be identified as gifted in the future, due to better identification criteria. She explained that with a growing population, more programming and funding is necessary.
Currently, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has devoted a quarter of an employee's time to gifted education. Previously, the department devoted two full time positions with an administrative assistant.
If Schaefer's bill passes, this would potentially change. Schaefer said he believes that instead of creating a new paid position for the person appointed to commissioner, the department would likely assign the responsibilities to a person already working in the department, with no extra pay.
In the past, similar legislation has died within committee hearings. Lampe sponsored several of these measures during her time in office, but she said she has more hope for Schaefer's legislation.
"I think he does have a better chance, partially due to the fact that he is in the majority party," Lampe said.