The Kansas City Star, Sept. 27
Missouri legislature needs to fix the school transfer law
The Missouri education commissioner's recommendation to keep the Kansas City Public Schools unaccredited should ratchet up pressure on the General Assembly to fix the law allowing students to transfer out of troubled districts and into surrounding ones.
The potential upheaval for the city and surrounding districts, plus the dramatically higher cost, makes the state's far-reaching transfer policy unreasonable and insufficient.
State and city leaders must find a way to improve Kansas City's neighborhood schools so students don't have to travel long distances to receive a quality education. The financial consequences of transfers would make that task more difficult.
Kansas City Public Schools, which lost provisional accreditation in 2012, managed with focused efforts from teachers, students and community volunteers to earn 60 percent of the points possible in its last review. That's more than the 50 percent needed for provisional accreditation. Superintendent Stephen Green appealed to Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the state Board of Education for provisional status.
But that would mean violating the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's timetable. Because of that, and the Kansas City district's history of poor performance, Nicastro wants to see long-term improvements, especially in academic scores.
It's hard to fault the commissioner's reasoning. Something must be done to reverse the long arc of failure of the Kansas City Public Schools.
But provisional accreditation, which the state board could still grant against Nicastro's recommendation, would spare the region from the harmful transfer policy. It already has created a financial crisis for the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts in the St. Louis area. The law requires unaccredited districts to foot the bills for the transferring students' tuition and transportation. Receiving districts in the St. Louis area are struggling to maintain reasonable class sizes and deal with classroom churn.
Kansas City has avoided transfers thus far because of a court case that is in the appeals process. It is expected to be decided this year. If it upholds the transfer law, students would likely begin moving to new districts at the start of the next school year.
The best way out of this conundrum is for state lawmakers to pass legislation in 2014 limiting and clarifying the transfer policy, which was tucked into a broader 1993 education law. The legislature has been derelict in fixing the policies regarding transfers, choosing instead to punt responsibility to the courts and state education officials.
Perhaps now, with two districts in crisis and a third on the brink, lawmakers will find a way to act.
The St. Joseph News-Press, Sept. 27
When a meeting isn't one
What if you held a public meeting in Missouri and no one came?
A version of this happens from time to time when the public takes a pass on putting in an appearance at city council or school board meetings. But a state law taking effect next month goes a step further and allows public officials themselves to act as if they are "present" when in reality they are not in the same room with their colleagues or constituents.
Missouri lawmakers recently overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of this measure, which allows votes to be cast routinely via videoconferencing. Previously, as the Associated Press noted, officials had to be "physically present and in attendance" to cast votes unless there was an emergency and a quorum was physically present.
This change is regrettable in that it meets small needs and preferences while putting fundamentals of open governance at risk.
Proponents of this change cite instances where an elected official might be traveling for work or other reasons when a vote on an issue is to be taken. This change makes government "more efficient" and takes advantage of modern technologies, they argue.
Our governor failed to win much support for his commonsense position, which encompasses both theory and practicality. Rather than improving government, he contends, videoconferencing can create a "virtual distance" between citizens and their representatives.
Requiring someone to actually be present when a vote is taken "provides assurances that our elected officials are, at a minimum, approachable and available to their constituents at public meetings," he says.
"It also ensures their active engagement in the topics at hand and provides an environment for open interaction and dialogue with colleagues, staff and the public in order to develop compromise and navigate difficult decisions."
Gov. Nixon notes nothing limits how frequently officials can vote remotely and nothing prevents an entire board from participating by videoconference. In the minds of many, board requirements to regularly participate in meetings would be satisfied with the video option.
It seems clear some elected officials will take advantage of this opening. It falls to responsible boards and their members to resist the urge — and to citizens to demand better.
Jefferson City News Tribune, Sept. 27
Challenge combines activity with appreciation
In a step aside from politics, Gov. Jay Nixon has been walking the walk when it comes to his 100 Missouri Miles Challenge.
The challenge was launched after Missouri was honored as the 2013 Best Trails State in America by American Trails, a national organization.
The beauty of Nixon's concept is it marries two laudable endeavors — outdoor physical fitness and an appreciation of our state's natural beauty.
The governor and first lady have been active participants. We must note, however, that Georganne has logged one mile more, a total of 289, than her husband, now at 288. In addition, she logged her first 100 miles on July 17, five days before the governor attained that milestone on July 22.
More notable than the first couple's close contest is the statewide invitation, which has attracted more than 10,000 fellow Missourians.
A news release Thursday reported 745,000 miles have been logged by those participants. In addition to individuals, nearly 200 organizations — including school, cross country teams and fitness groups — have accepted the challenge on behalf of their members. And nearly 20 businesses are using the initiative as part of office wellness programs.
The Governor's 100 Missouri Miles Challenge is a partnership with the Missouri State Parks, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Division of Tourism and the Office of Administration.
The governor's goal for challenge participants is to log 1 million miles this year. People may take the challenge or acquire more information at www.mo.gov.
Some of Missouri's premier walking, running and biking trails, including the Katy Trail, are accessible here in Central Missouri.
Cooler, autumn temperatures and colorful fall foliage make this an ideal time to accept the challenge and get moving.
Appreciating nature's artistry while enhancing physical fitness is an activity that is doubly worthwhile.
The Springfield News-Leader, Sept. 24
Kinder's spite hypocritical
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has gone to great lengths to oppose the Affordable Care Act — aka, Obamacare — even to the point of filing a lawsuit challenging its implementation.
But his latest effort to undermine the law is his most insidious and distasteful move to date.
On Monday, Kinder urged Missourians to boycott the online marketplace that launches next week, saying: "I would hope there would be active resistance to this law — that people would not sign up."
Kinder, like many of his Republican colleagues at the state and federal level, would rather turn a blind eye to the thousands of needy state residents who are unable to access or afford health insurance.
Missouri has roughly 800,000 people without health insurance. About half of those could be eligible for subsidized coverage through the online health insurance exchange, said Ryan Barker, vice president of health policy at the Missouri Foundation for Health.
The foundation, which is part of the Cover Missouri Coalition, is encouraging people to consider their coverage options under the exchange. "The marketplace is another option for people to compare prices and look and see if it might be something that works for themselves and their family and small business," Barker said.
In many respects, the marketplace is an example of free enterprise. Insurance plans included in the exchange are offered by private companies. All will be expected to include the same core set of health benefits, including many preventive services at no cost, but consumers will have a choice on which plan best suits their needs.
Options will be presented in a simple format — with different prices, benefits and features divided into four options based on cost (bronze, silver, gold and platinum). No one can be denied coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.
Of course, Kinder is sitting comfortable while he discourages poor families and even jobless adults or others unable to get insurance.
Kinder is insured through the state plan for employees, his spokesman confirmed. For those plans, the state pays the lion's share of the cost.
Kinder's spiteful attempt to discourage people from accessing health care reminds us of Captain Ahab and his quest to kill the white whale. You can almost hear the echoes of Gregory Peck from the classic 1956 "Moby Dick" film:
"From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."