Senators passed a joint resolution today that, if approved by the house, will go to a public vote in the fall. This joint resolution would overhaul the way the Missouri Board of Education works. Major consolidations would take place, creating one, single, 6-person Board to oversee all public education- k-12 and public universities. These changes would create anywhere from 1-3 million dollars in cost cuts. Advocates say the cost cuts are not the motivation behind the bill, but rather they hope that it will streamline education all the way from kindergarten through college graduation. Communication between educators at different levels was a huge push behind the resolution. However, on the other side of the fence, two lone Senators voted against the legislation- one Democrat and one Republican. Senator Frank Barnitz, a rural Missouri Democrat, talked about his concern that this new consolidated board will become too powerful in its control of nearly everything education related in Missouri- by only 6 representatives. The bill requires that there only be three members from each political party in order maintain balance, but concerns remained. Additionally, Barnitz said he doesn't feel like the Senators were able to talk through all potential scenarios. He didn't think that he could honestly explain the specifics of the bill to voters, if it comes to a public vote. With only a few weeks left in the session, only time will tell, but if this legislation does move forward, it will be interesting to see how the public reacts.
Last week, I covered a very lengthy house session on Access Missouri, a state funded scholarship program. The big debate was over whether or not to equalize Access Missouri funds in terms of how much is allocated to students attending public schools versus private schools. Currently, and for several years now, the program has given different amounts to those attending public and private institutions. Private school students get a significantly larger amount. However, the allocation of money has gotten extremely out of balance. Several senators reported that private schools are receiving two times the amount of public schools. And, with a recent tuition freeze on in-state tuition, many seemed to feel that the public institutions in the state need to be receiving more from the Access Missouri funds. There was no disagreement that changes needed to be made- the question was what exactly would the changes be and how soon would they be implemented? After nearly 5 hours on the subject, the vote was made to introduce an equalization of funds in 2014. All students will receive the same amount of scholarship, regardless of the cost or type of their college choice. And, there would be no sunset on the action. Overall, the results seemed to be positive for everyone and although the dialogue was long, it was in pure form and showed the effectiveness of the system. A challenge that house members eluded they had been sitting on for some time, was finally resolved.
Today was a big day in the capitol city. Filing day. I made my way down to the Secretary of State's office amidst hoards of other candidate hopefuls and press. The whole process was overwhelming upon my first entrance into the building. I meandered around the third floor talking to those waiting in the long line to file. People came from all across Missouri to stand in line-some waiting for over 2 hours. An feeling of excitement was abuzz. One man had run- literally jogged- from his hometown. He wanted to make running for office literal and as he stood in line in his sweatsuit, he was well on his way. His wife was at his side, although she had opted to pass on the running option. Another woman was excited to be the first female from her district to run for state representative. Current Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was mingling in the halls of her office. She is considered a democratic front runner for the open seat in the U.S. Senate. Her major opponent, Missouri Congressman, Roy Blunt, made a stop on his bus tour to come file. When Blunt's large, colorful tour bus pulled up, commotion ensued outside the building as press and bystanders swarmed. My experience with the filing process was incredibly interesting. I was able to talk to those waiting in line, and also walk through the filing process. People had brought along campaign managers, family members, and other supporters.The hustle, bustle and anticipation created an atmosphere I don't always see in the seriousness of the day to day goings on of the capitol building. There was still much discussion of issues and statements from candidates, but it was an interesting snapshot of a different side of government as people left the office beaming, manila envelope in hand, finished with filing and ready for the journey ahead.
Today marked my second day covering the Missouri Senate. I sucessfully plugged in my XLR cord and recording device to the glossy press table and settled in for a grueling two and a half hour session. Luckily, my seat has a cushion. Each day is full of surprises here in the capitol building. The gallery was full of elementary school kids visiting for the day. The Senate members on the other hand were few and far between. I counted 14 present. The Chinese Ambassador was in attendance however, and the stir was cause for our first recess. After this little break, the Senate resumed and the heat was on.
Autism was at the forefront of the agenda, and it wasn't long before words were flying. Everytime I sit in on the Senate is a listening test. I perch on the edge of my seat trying desperatley to absorb everything I can. My knowledge of government and politics- and the difference between the two- has grown four-fold in a weeks' time. Today was no exception. Two sides debated the pros and cons of a bill that would do two major things to autism care for children in Missouri. One, the bill would require insurance plans to cover autism (which they currently aren't required to do). Two, the cap of coverage would be increased from $55,000 to $72,000. But keep in mind, this change only effects those who are actually insured. Thus, a whole other issue surfaced. How to provide care for the uninsured. An amendment was subsequently proposed by Senator Joan Bray, D- St. Louis County. The amendment would cover children of the "working poor" families in Missouri. There was no fiscal note and little conrete information, but word on the street is, the amendment would be costly. Another recess began around lunch only to resume again in the afternoon for announcements. Looks like the battle of the bill will go on to live another day.