Missouri Remains Open for Business during Federal Government Shutdown
The last few days have been chaotic for many Americans as they deal with the reality of a federal government that is currently closed for business. The shutdown has led to thousands of federal employees here in Missouri being furloughed; visitors to national parks such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis being turned away; and even Internet users looking for information on federal government websites finding it is no longer accessible. These are all clear cut examples of government at its worst when it has failed to meet the needs of the people it is meant to serve, and a stark contrast to the way our state government works here in Missouri.
That is why I take great pride in our own state government and the fact that we continue to operate in a responsible manner based on common sense. Just like Missouri families do on a day-to-day basis, we tighten our belts when times get tough and commit ourselves to making the difficult decisions that have to be made to keep the budget balanced and the halls of government open and accessible to our people. Sure, we have partisan fighting and bickering from time to time, but you can rest assured these kinds of disagreements will never lead to a complete failure by your state government to do its job. Even when we have had extremely difficult budget years, and yes we have had to deal with budget gaps in the hundreds of millions, we have found a way to put our differences aside and do what is right for the people we are elected to represent.
So even though we have a lot to be worried about as we watch the dysfunctional mess that is our federal government, we can take some solace in the fact that the Show-Me State continues to be a great example of how a smaller, more responsive, more responsible government should operate. Letís hope the bureaucrats and career politicians in Washington, D.C. will start taking a look around at states like ours, and make the wise decision to emulate the model of success we have developed. How refreshing would it be to see a federal government that spends our tax dollars responsibly and actually approves balanced budgets year after year? Thatís what we do here in Missouri every year, and thatís what they should be doing in Washington, D.C.
General Assembly Continues to Look for Legislative Fixes to School Transfer Issue
Members of the Joint Committee on Education recently met in the state Capitol to discuss what has been the most talked about issue in education this year Ė the student transfer policy. This statute, which has been law for 20 years, allows students to transfer out of unaccredited school districts and into better-performing schools. It became an urgent issue in June of this year when the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the transfer law in a St. Louis-based case. That decision opened the floodgates for more than 2,600 students to leave the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens School districts.
This is an extremely complex issue that on one hand involves giving young people an opportunity for a better education, which is something we all want, but on the other hand creates numerous hardships for both the unaccredited and receiving school districts. Consider that the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts will lose some $35 million in funding this year because of the loss of students leaving for other districts.
Already we have seen the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ask for $6.8 million in emergency funding to help the Normandy School District get through the end of the school year. The money would be used to cover tuition and transportation costs for about 1,100 students who transferred out of the district, as well as pay for the education of about 3,000 children remaining in Normandy schools. As our state education commissioner said, "The costs are simply unsustainable for (the) sending districts."
And as much as this law is a burden on the districts losing students, it is important to keep in mind that the receiving districts are placed in an extremely difficult position as well. The neighboring districts that receive new students are forced to find classroom space and teachers to accommodate the influx of new students. Given the budget constraints our schools operate under, itís not hard to see how much of a burden a large number of new students could create. The situation is one that is not ideal and now has legislators discussing what we can do to help.
The Joint Committee on Educationís hearing was an important step toward taking effective legislative action in 2014. The committee received great input during its hearing that included the possibility of passing legislation next year to revoke the student transfer law entirely. Regardless of what the committee ultimately recommends as the proper policy solution for this problem, the consensus among my legislative colleagues is that we must do something and we must do it quickly.
While this situation is a major issue right now in St. Louis, it also has the potential to impact Kansas City depending on a court ruling that is still pending in a separate but similar case to the one ruled on earlier this year in St. Louis. And if a day comes when a school district in a rural area loses accreditation, we will certainly be in this same mess all over again if we donít act now. This is undoubtedly a statewide issue and one we will seek to address when we return in January to begin the legislative session. Our goal is to give every young person in this state the opportunity to receive a high quality education that will prepare them for success as adults. In order to accomplish that goal, we will continue to discuss and work toward a better solution for this critical issue.
Joint Committee on Administrative Rules Blocks Use of E15 Fuel
A panel of lawmakers met this week to block a change proposed by the state agriculture department to allow the use of fuel with a higher percentage of ethanol. The state currently requires most Missouri gasoline to contain a 10 percent ethanol blend. The rule change proposed by the Missouri Department of Agriculture would have allowed gas stations to sell fuel with up to 15 percent ethanol. It is a move that was supported by the renewable fuels industry and corn growers who say the move could lower fuel prices. However, representatives of petroleum suppliers and the automobile industry opposed the change because of concerns that the E15 fuel could damage some vehicle engines.
The decision by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to block the new policy proposed by the agriculture department is only temporary in nature. When we return in January for the 2014 session it will be up to the entire General Assembly to determine if the proposed rule change should be permanently blocked. Between now and then I will do my best to be as informed as possible on this issue so that I can help the legislature make the decision that is best for the people of Missouri.
I do appreciate your input on matters of importance to you, your family, and community. If, at any time, you have questions, concerns or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for Missouri citizens, please feel free to contact me at 573-751-1459 or e-mail me at email@example.com. Thank you for taking an active role by voicing your opinions on our state and national government issues. Thank you for the honor to serve the 35th District.