By Dr. Arnold E. Bell
This is a letter I sent to state Sen. Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau, who represents the 27th District in the Missouri Senate:
Dear Senator Crowell:
Thank you for the information on the 65 percent mandate. I was aware of the possible push by the governor's office a couple of months ago. I was not then, nor am I now, supportive of such a mandate.
There are several issues with this mandate that make it harmful to schools and the children of this district. We should at least protect the local control of our school districts to allow the local board of education to make the funding decisions for their districts. SB 287, the new foundation formula, already mandates that each school district place a minimum of 75 percent of our state aid into the teacher fund. Now, we're going to be told how to spend our local tax dollars regardless of the level of state funds the district receives.
This is just another way to mask the lack of adequate funding for our schools in this state. Such legislation will force districts to make decisions that will not be good for the children just so we can meet another mandate handed down to use from our governmental leaders. We can complain about the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but the true story is that our legislative bodies are passing bills that mandate more and pay for less.
There used to be a time when we had a call for less government in our lives. Now, we seem to have a push for government to tell us how to do everything. I do not believe our governor nor legislators truly know what is important and what is not when it comes to educating children. If they did, they would have read the research on Ron Edmonds and the Effective Schools Research and what role the building principals have in student learning. They would not be talking about spending millions of dollars to put seat belts in school buses in the name of safety (which is not part of the 65 percent solution and will cause more safety issues than it corrects). We cannot teach the children if we do not get them to school, and by increasing transportation costs, we will have to make more cuts to reduce the overall expenditures so we can afford the 65 percent solution. We can go on and on with this discussion, but the bottom line is the government needs to provide support and let us do our jobs.
Please do not look for my support on this issue or any issue that takes away control of our local districts and the management of our districts. I also will never be supportive of allowing our governor to appoint our commission of education, which is possibly the next piece of political rhetoric that will come from Jefferson City.
If you want to help the schools in this state, work on ways to restore the total state funding for education back to the level it was in 2000 and 2001. Also, think about the validity of this so-called 65 percent solution. Where did it come from and why? Was it designed by a group of educators who knew something about student learning and quality teaching, or was it created by a few people who do not want to find the No. 1 priority of our state? This solution does not create new monies for public education. It simply shifts money from one group of services to another and provides another smoke screen the average citizens assumes is a good thing. I will do all I can to help them understand the truth.
Dr. Arnold E. Bell is the superintendent of the Chaffee School District.