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07 February 2012

Stouffer: Without Education: Prison, Poverty or Death

When it comes to providing a world-class education to all Missouri students, the stakes are extremely high. If we are to compete in the global economy, we must have a skilled work force. Among the issues related directly to this topic in 2012 is a look at school reform.

As a society, we are failing kids by not providing them with equal educational opportunities — these are the same kids who often end up in prison, poverty, and in some instances with a death sentence because they have gone down the wrong path. We have some of the best teachers in the United States right here in rural Missouri. However, this is not always the case in urban schools. I have visited urban schools where teachers show up every other day to “teach.” Meanwhile, students pass through grades without the ability to read.

Education must be a top priority, not just for job opportunities, but for our students.

Some in the education lobby believe that education reforms are attacks on good teachers. This could not be further from the truth. Good teachers know and care more about kids learning than anyone. We should all be searching for ways to replicate what good teachers are doing by allowing teachers to teach. We should also rid our schools of burdensome regulations and return to more local control.

One idea for more local control is charter schools. First opening their doors in Kansas City in 1999, and a year later in St. Louis, charter schools are a relatively new approach to education in Missouri. A charter school is the same as a public school, with the exception of its organization. A charter public school is governed by an independent school board. Just like standard public schools, charter schools are free and open to all students in the districts where they operate, and are held accountable for the results they produce. This year, I am sponsoring Senate Bill 576, which would expand charter schools to all areas of Missouri with certain limits. Currently, charters can only be found in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Unfortunately, charter school performance is mixed; however, they also deal with some of Missouri’s students who struggle the most. I am open to any ideas that would give our children a better opportunity. My legislation would increase accountability for all charter schools and allow only school boards in rural Missouri the opportunity to operate a charter school. This option provides more local control for communities.

I have not found a strong correlation between school spending and performance; however, delivery and passion within each building and the ability to improve every student every year seems to be the most important factor. We can improve the way we educate our future here in this state by giving every student a fighting chance. I invite the education community to continue to bring forward new ideas to get this accomplished. It is a topic that affects all of us.

Everybody agrees — a good education system here in Missouri will provide our future with a skilled labor force and less societal costs.

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