HB 1490 Groups Report
In 2014, during the Second Regular Session of the 97th General Assembly, the legislature passed HB 1490. This became a part of the effort to replace Common Core. Common Core was also defunded in the budget, returning Missouri learning standards and curriculum to Missouri.
Among other things, HB 1490 established work groups in the English Language Arts (reading comprehension, writing, and speech), Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. These groups were further divided into K-5 and 6-12 grade levels. All consisted of a combination of education practitioners as well as parents. The law set a deadline for reporting their recommendations to the State Board of Education, and on Monday these groups gave their reports to the Board. I attended to hear first-hand these recommendations and assess the reaction of those concerned and in attendance.
In general, the reports seemed to be a great improvement over Common Core. The standards are set at a state level, but the curriculum for achieving these standards gives a great deal of latitude to local input. In other words, teachers will be allowed to teach! Some of the other positive features include the fact that science will be emphasized as a hands-on learning experience: doing science as opposed to merely learning abstract concepts. Also, in 6-12 English an emphasis will be placed on the historical context of the literature as opposed to just the aspects of storytelling and language mechanics. Also, and this is very important to many of us, cursive writing will be added back into the curriculum. In social studies, chronology will be emphasized (so that students understand Columbus landed in the Americas before George Washington became president), and research and critical thinking skills will be taught. Finally, in social studies an emphasis will be placed on citizenship and patriotism along with an examination of our original documents (the Constitution will be studied rather than just presented through someone's interpretation!).
These final points are of particular interest to me. I have shared with many of you my fear that by excluding instruction in cursive writing our founding documents would become papers of a foreign language to future generations. The reincorporation of cursive and the social studies emphasis on original documents should help achieve the goals of teaching the true values of this great nation. Needless to say, I am quite pleased with these two aspects.
Overall, the groups obviously took their charge seriously and worked to build Missouri standards for Missouri students. Those vehemently in favor of Common Core seemed to be as displeased with the results of the findings as were those who are vehemently opposed. In my opinion, we certainly want our students to be able to compete in the college of their choice, but we must achieve those standards in a manner that makes sense to all Missouri parents. The local aspect of education should always continue to be a focal point for Missouri education.
Governor Withholds More than $46 Million in Funds from Current Budget
Governor Nixon dipped into his old bag of tricks again when he recently withheld more than $46 million from the state budget despite the fact the state has a budget surplus and continues to see increasing revenues. Budget leaders from the House and Senate were immediately critical as they pointed out the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority, which limits him to withholding funds only when the state has insufficient revenues to fund the budget.
The governor based his withholdings on the fact that the state may not see approximately $50 million in funds from the national tobacco settlement. An appeals court ruled the tobacco companies do not need to pay Missouri the money, but Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is currently appealing that ruling. In the meantime, legislative leaders contend the state has more than enough money to fill the gap. As evidence, they point to the fact that the state carried over a budget surplus in the hundreds of millions from the previous fiscal year to the current.
Some of Missouri's most vulnerable citizens will be hit the hardest by the governor's funding restrictions. Funding increases for health care, nursing and other health service providers will now be significantly less than what was approved by the legislature. What was meant to be a 3 percent increase for provider rates for services to the developmentally disabled will now be only a 1 percent increase. As Lt. Governor Kinder said about the cuts, "This issue affects countless Missourians who benefit from these programs and/or have loved ones who do."
The House is now discussing whether to override the governor's withholds when the legislature reconvenes for the 2016 Regular Session. Missourians approved Amendment 10 in 2014 that gives the legislature the ability to override the governor's withholds.