Gov. Nixon Lucy’s the Legislature on Education

Poor Charlie Brown. He wanted to be a place-kicker. He just needed someone to hold the football up for him. Along came Lucy. She teed the ball up for him and told him it was time to kick. Then, just as Charlie was about to kick the ball, Lucy would swipe it away.

On Friday, Gov. Nixon vetoed House Bill 42, an education reform bill sponsored by Rep. David Wood (R-Versailles). In the process, he pulled a Lucy.

This was not the first education transfer bill to cross Gov. Nixon’s desk. Last year the bill was Senate Bill 493. I was involved in its formation and passage. We held dozens of meetings with legislators of both parties and across the ideological spectrum. In the end, we passed a bi-partisan, cross-regional bill. Gov. Nixon vetoed it.

In his veto message from last year, Gov. Nixon said he had four major problems with the bill.

First, it included a “private option” that would allow children in failing schools within failing school districts to transfer to private schools if those private schools agreed to accept a lower tuition rate than the traditional public schools to which those same children would be eligible to transfer under current Missouri law.

This provision would have saved “sending” districts money, alleviated pressure on “receiving” districts, and given children and their parents in poor neighborhoods similar opportunities that children of middle class and wealthy families enjoy.  Nevertheless, equality in educational choice was too much for Gov. Nixon. It’s too dangerous for Gov. Nixon and the defenders of the status quo to allow poor families, no matter how desperate, the freedom to make their own choices. (It’s also relevant to mention that these eligible private schools would have had to abide by the same regulations as public schools, could not have been controlled by any religion, and could not have required students to take any religion classes.

The legislature listened to Gov. Nixon and took this extremely limited private option out of the bill.

Second, Gov. Nixon said he could not sign the bill because it did not provide any transportation funding for transfer students. I agreed with Nixon on this point and the legislature fixed that flaw.

Third, Nixon said he disliked a provision in the bill encouraging receiving districts to accept a lower tuition by not counting the transfer student scores in statewide assessments for five years. Again, I agreed with Nixon on this. And again, the legislature fixed the problem in this year’s bill.

Fourth, Nixon complained that a “hardship transfer” provision in the bill was unrelated to the bill’s real impetus. That was certainly true. So, the legislature removed it from this year’s bill.

In January, I attended a meeting with two members of Gov. Nixon’s staff and eight other key House members on education. Gov. Nixon’s staff laid out his requirements for a bill. There was great hope that we could reach an agreement. Although I wasn’t integrally involved in the bill process this year, I heard from several people that the governor’s office actually engaged on the bill.

Like Charlie Brown, the legislature tried. We trusted Gov. Nixon was holding the ball in good faith. On Friday, Gov. Nixon yanked the football away. We will not fall for his trick again. Student transfer legislation is finished during the Nixon Administration. It will take a leader who can be trusted in the governor’s office before the legislature is willing to make another run at it.