By State Rep. David Klint
by State Rep. David Klindt
The Missouri House of Representatives continued to focus on two important issues this week; namely, transportation and the crisis in urban education.
The House spent two days working on HB 1742 this week. HB 1742 authorizes the Highway Commission to issue state road bonds for up to $2 billion between 2001 and 2007. The Highway Commission is required to present a plan to the Legislature each year detailing the highway projects that are to be completed. The Legislature must then approve the proposed plan before the Commission can actually sell any bonds. The bill specifies that all projects funded by these bonds must be funded in conformity with the priorities established in the 15-Year Plan.
An amendment to strip out the requirement that the revenue from these bonds can only be spent on projects included in the 15-Year Plan was defeated by a vote of 99 to 53. It was pointed out during debate that the purpose for selling these bonds is to get the highway construction schedule
off dead center with a quick infusion of cash. However, removing the requirement that this money be used to fund 15-Year Plan projects would give MoDOT free rein to spend the money however they wanted with no accountability.
To further insure that the bond money will be spent where it is needed, the House approved an amendment that requires MoDOT to spend this money only on road and bridge construction, preservation, and maintenance. MoDOT is restricted from spending the money on engineering costs such as salaries for new engineers or for administrative costs. This amendment makes it
very clear that the Legislature wants the money spent on important transportation projects, not more bureaucracy. Another amendment added an emergency clause to the bill and directs the Highway Commission to issue up to $500 million in bonds for this fiscal year so MoDOT can get started on projects as soon as possible.
The House Education Committee held a special hearing this week to hear from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on the loss of state accreditation for the Kansas City School District. After DESE explained to the members of the committee why the Kansas City District will lose its accreditation on May 1, 2000, the latest superintendent of the district addressed the committee.
Superintendent Benjamin Demps told the committee that he had met with Governor Carnahan the previous day and has been working with DESE to persuade them to change the effective date of the District’s unaccreditation from May 1 to the end of the school term to relieve the anxiety of the children. Dr. Demps spoke about how the governance of the district has been a complicated mess with the involvement of the federal court and the now defunct Desegregation Monitoring Committee. He acknowledged that the central administration of the district needs
significant work. However, now that the court and the Monitoring Committee are not involved, he is focusing on the real task, which is to educate the children.
Overall student achievement in the district is abysmal. Reforms to improve student achievement were supposed to have been implemented between 1997-1999. They weren’t. Dr. Demps is working on implementing a core curriculum which will also accommodate the socioeconomic factors of the students, a professional development plan to teach the teachers how to teach the children, and an accountability plan.
Dr. Demps attempted to lengthen the school day to provide more instruction time for these kids who, in some cases, are very far behind. He was told he could not do that because of regulations and union contract restrictions. So, Dr. Demps has started a voluntary Saturday school for intensive reading and math remediation. Many of the Kansas City school teachers and members of the community are volunteering to work with the 2,800 kids who are attending these Saturday classes.
Dr. Demps pointed out that the district does not have enough math, science music and foreign language teachers. They are having a very difficult time recruiting teachers to come to work in the district. Teachers do not want to risk their careers and reputations on this failing district. This is just one example of the tremendous challenges and obstacles Dr. Demps will be facing in his task to gain control of this huge, unwieldy urban district. It may be impossible for any single person to accomplish.