It’s been three years since the 10 school districts in Cass County formed Cass County Kids First to speak as one voice in Jefferson City about educating children in the county. The group intends to continue its efforts next year.
“I believe we are having a positive impact on our relationships and interactions with our legislators on both sides of the aisle,” said Raymore-Peculiar school board member Ruth Johnson, who was instrumental in forming the group.
“Both sides come to the table and are looking to understand and contribute to the other,” Johnson said.
“They are going to get their information about education-related bills from somewhere. We would like it to come from the people on the front lines every day.”
On June 2, members of the coalition met for breakfast with local lawmakers at the Raymore-Peculiar School District Administrative Services Center.
Legislators commented about the recently concluded 2017 legislative session, and then answered questions. Topics included school funding; charter schools; vouchers and school choice; funding for early childhood education; and tax increment financing, which can deprive school districts of tax revenue from new developments for a period of time.
The legislators said many bills did not advance or pass because of discord and turmoil in the Senate, according to a press release from the coalition. Lawmakers attending the event were state Reps. Joe Runions, Rick Brattin, Jack Bondon and Donna Pfautsch. Belton school board president Jerry Miller moderated the session.
The 10 school districts in Cass County Kids First collectively serve more than 18,000 students. Those are Belton, Raymore-Peculiar, Harrisonville, Cass Midway, Archie, Drexel, East Lynne, Pleasant Hill, Sherwood and Strasburg.
The voices of school board members are considered crucial, because legislators expect paid superintendents to speak out for public education.
“We are 70 elected board members working with six elected legislators. We are all voted on by the same constituents, but 70 of us don’t get paid,” Johnson said. “It is a great way to hold all of us accountable to the same voters.”
Cass County Kids First has reached out to federal lawmakers as well.
Its Missouri, legislative priorities are organized into the four categories of funding, local control, accountability and student transfers.
This year, the legislative session ended without passage of what amounts to a school vouchers bill, which would send public money to the families of students attending private schools. Nor did lawmakers expand the reach of charter schools.
And for the first time, the legislature this year fully funded the state school finance formula. The $3.4 billion outlay will send $45 million more to Missouri school districts in the upcoming fiscal year, barring action to the contrary by the governor.
Miller, the Belton school board president, said they’re always excited about full funding of the finance formula. But he added that the voucher bill didn’t pass because lawmakers ran out of time.
“We just got lucky on that one,” he said. “That will come back next year.”
Overall, Johnson said, a challenge for the group is staying current on the status of bills and delivering information in a timely manner.
“Another challenge is the constant battle against public education,” she said. “We educate and truly believe all children deserve a chance to learn from great teachers in a great school. This cannot be accomplished when funding is always being cut or diverted to systems that are not accountable in the same ways we are.”
Many students, she said, are turned away from other schools because they don’t fit a certain “profile.”
Miller agreed that all schools receiving public money should be held to the same standards, including serving children with special needs.
“The public school takes anybody who gets off that yellow bus,” he said.
For more about the Cass County Kids First, look for it by name on Facebook or at twitter.com/CassKidsFirst.