Missouri House education committee approves omnibus bill

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By DICK ALDRICH
Missouri News Horizon

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -  It looks like the Missouri House of Representatives’ top education priorities will come out in one large package in which it appears there’s plenty to like, and dislike.

And that could spell its doom.

The House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday approved by a narrow 13 to 9 margin legislation that includes proposals to help prop up the education foundation formula, make it easier for charter schools to locate in the state, establish school vouchers and repeal teacher tenure, among other issues.

In short, the bill combines every piece of school reform legislation before the General Assembly this session. In legislative parlance, these are called “omnibus bills,” as in all encompassing. But lawmakers with education backgrounds think the bus is about to careen off the road because it’s overloaded.

“We’ve seen this before, when it gets too big, it will die of its own weight,” said Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, a former public school teacher and administrator. “We’re not talking about one or two controversial things in this bill, we’re talking about a lot of controversial things in this.”

Some provisions, like the foundation formula fix already faced an uphill road with some saying the fix sponsored by Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, favors rural schools over urban ones. Public school proponents generally do not like bills having to do with charter schools and private school tuition subsidies. The teacher tenure issue is a touchy subject around most teachers' organizations.

Already, the bill is drawing fire from legislators and special interest groups.

“There are some pieces in that bill I just couldn’t vote for,” said Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis who sponsors charter school legislation that was folded into the bill. “Especially with the tuition tax credits, my constituents do not support that. If that’s allowed to go through, then the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts do not exist.”

Thomson also voted against the package telling reporters that the bill is “overreaching”.

A couple of weeks ago, House Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, told reporters that substantive education legislation might be too tough to accomplish in one legislative session, which makes the timing of the legislative package curious to some, including House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas CIty.

“Toying around with the education of our children is despicable,” Talboy said. “If you’re going to throw it in an omnibus bill and load it up with a bunch of stuff that people don’t want to vote for, it’s disingenuous.”