jay nixon

Governor Nixon urged Missouri school superintendents and administrators at a recent DESE sponsored conference to lobby their legislator not to vote to overturn his veto of certain tax bills that the legislature passed this spring.  The Governor is welcome to share his political views with anyone he wishes. Superintendents are welcome to lobby their representative, as an individual. But they should never be allowed to speak as a representative of your school district without your school board’s approval. They are employees of the district, not mouthpieces for the governor.

This issue needs to be on every school board’s agenda in the next month so that there can be an open discussion about what the DISTRICT’s position is on the new tax bills. The Superintendents should be held to representing their employer’s position.

Governor Nixon has a dubious affection for education. He withheld $400 million from the education budget last year at a time when everyone was looking for money. The economy has been slow to recover and Missouri is leaking jobs to all our neighboring states (except IL) in large part because of our tax structure. The Governor was at least honest about holding education hostage to his vision.  The News Leader reported his statement, “I restricted education (funds) in the hopes I can sustain my vetoes and I said if and when those vetoes are sustained, that the performance funding for higher education and the foundation formula money, the first place I will put that are those two.”  Translation – “I will hold this money hostage until I get my way. Then I will give it back to the places where it is constitutionally supposed to go.” This year he withheld the entire increase, $100 million, that the legislature gave to education for the same purposes.

The new tax bill that the legislature passed (SB509 & 496), the governor vetoed and they have already overridden, seeks to make our state more competitive with our neighbors by bringing our personal and business tax levels in line with theirs. This bill addresses many of the causes of our lower revenues from 2013. Safeguards were put in place to ensure that there would be no negative effect on revenues like there were in Kansas which enacted similar changes to their personal income tax rates two years ago. And the legislature did not forget education in this bill. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. John Diehl said the keys to the success of this year’s bill are the safeguards it contains combined with the legislature’s commitment to record levels of funding for education. (Read more about the new bill at the Missouri Torch.)

The bills that the Governor was likely referring to at the DESE meeting are HB2002 and HB1865 which are part of a slew of vetoes he wrote in June because he disagrees with the legislature’s revenue projections. They have been more accurate than this Governor in the past when it comes to revenue prediction and have been working to address the causes of the states lower income that can be addressed here (tax credits, personal income tax etc.)

You can tell which way I lean on this particular issue, but I am not telling your school board how to vote. The point is that this is one of those cases where the function and accountability of Superintendents needs to be corrected after heading in the wrong direction for years. Whatever position they lobby for in the state capitol MUST be that of their employer if they claim to represent the district in their lobbying efforts.

School board members should also make a point to speak to their representatives BEFORE any vote is taken by the board to do their due diligence in researching this issue. It is not acceptable to take the word of the Superintendent on these kinds of votes. Once the vote is taken they should reach out to their legislators again and make clear what the district’s position is, in case any of the Superintendents are not clear about who they are representing when they talk to Jefferson City.

The public is going to need to help on this one.  Educate your school board members so they can represent the will of the people who voted them into office.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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