Panel wants Missouri to apply for first Hyperloop certification track (VIDEO)

Missouri should be first state to apply for to have a high-speed Hyperloop system built within its borders.  That’s the recommendation released today from the Special Blue Ribbon Panel on Hyperloop formed by Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield).

The Panel wants Missouri to be first in building a national certification track.  It would be the first step toward seeing a Hyperloop connection between Kansas City and St. Louis, offering passengers a trip between the two in less than 30 minutes.

Haahr said the Hyperloop would keep Missouri at the forefront of transportation technology developments and revolutionize the movement of passengers and freight across the state, while opening up the possibility for ultra-fast travel to other locations in the country in the future.  It is also projected that it would reduce fatalities in I-70 as well as carbon emissions.

The test track would cost between $300-million and $500-million.

Learn more about the Panel’s proposal by watching the conference presented today on the University of Missouri campus:

Budget subcommittee chair to recommend delay in basing college, university funding on performance

The Chair of the House subcommittee that deals with education funding says he will recommend the legislature put off a performance-based funding mechanism for state-supported colleges and universities.

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi testifies to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on January 31, 2018. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Cedarcreek Republican Lyle Rowland’s subcommittee heard from those institutions’ presidents over the course of two days and said many of them wanted the same things:  a delay in implementation of that plan, and a restoration of their core funding.

The state budget proposed last month by Governor Eric Greitens (R) would cut higher education funding by 10-percent, or roughly $100-million, from its Fiscal Year 2018 level.  Also in early January, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education approved linking 10-percent of funding for publicly-backed colleges and universities to performance factors such as students’ job placement, degree completion, and budgetary practices.  The model would look back at institutions’ performance over the past three years.

The combination means it is possible, though unlikely, that any given institution could see a decrease of as much as 20-percent in year-to-year state support.

Rowland said he agrees with the institution presidents who told him implementing performance-based funding now puts them at a disadvantage.

“[Institutions] didn’t know what their standards were going to be.  They didn’t know how to change their operation of their colleges and universities to help meet those goals,” said Rowland.  “With them not knowing what standards were, what those areas of concern are going to be, they have no way of implementing it, so it was going to hurt them financially.  We don’t want to hurt them financially.”

He wants to postpone that plan for three years so that institutions will know what areas to work on before their support is tied to them.

“We want to give them the opportunity to build up before we start with the funding model and then let’s put x-amount of new dollars into performance funding then and if you’re not meeting it you’re not going to get all of that funding.  We’re going to redistribute that to the other schools and universities.”

Rowland’s panel on Wednesday heard from University of Missouri System President Mun Choi, who touted to lawmakers the system’s accomplishments but coupled that with words of caution.

He said 90-percent of Mizzou’s students found a job within six months or moved on to graduate school; research is yielding advancements in the agriculture and medical fields; and Missouri S&T last summer beat out other universities from around the world in a competition to design a Mars rover.

“Those kinds of stories are peppered throughout all of our campuses but our ability to continue these programs is in jeopardy because of the cuts that we’ve experienced,” said Choi.

Lincoln University Interim President Michael Middleton echoed Choi’s call for a restoration of core funding and a delay in the performance model.

Representative Lyle Rowland (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“We are about as lean as we can be.  We’re already seeing that giving multiple responsibilities to individuals affects our productivity, which I believe is reflected in the number of students we’re able to recruit and retain,” said Middleton.  “With this [proposed] additional wave of cuts we are in a perfect storm with no clear break in the clouds.”

As for the proposed cut to core funding, Rowland said the governor’s proposal is not likely to stand, but given the state’s overall economic picture some reduction is probable.

“I’m sure there will be some cuts.  What we’re trying to do is try to make it as little as possible,” said Rowland.  “We’re hoping to be able to locate some things [elsewhere in the state budget] that we might be able to transfer into higher ed.”

The ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Kip Kendrick (Columbia), has been one of several lawmakers expressing concern about the timing of performance-based funding.  He thinks most legislators will agree it should be pushed back.

“Higher education institutions across the board were on the same message about this, whether they were going to receive an additional hit from the performance funding model or not,” said Kendrick.  “Everybody was very tepid in having that implemented in a year where there is a potential for up to 10-percent of additional cuts to higher education.  We can’t penalize institutions on top of the additional cuts that they’re receiving this year.  It’s way too punitive and not the right year to implement it.”

Rowland will submit his recommendation to the full budget committee.  That committee will develop its own state budget proposal to be considered by the full House.  Eventually the House and Senate will have to agree on a state spending plan to be sent to the governor.

Task Force on Dyslexia issues recommendations for dyslexia screenings of Missouri students

A Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia has completed its work and released recommendations for having Missouri public school students screened for dyslexia.

Representative Kathy Swan (left) listens as Kim Stuckey, Director of Dyslexia Specialists at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, discusses the report of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

The Task Force’s report to legislative leaders and the governor recommends that all students in kindergarten through grade three be screened for dyslexia and related disorders beginning in the 2018-19 school year.  It also recommends that students who have not been previously screened, and who have been identified as “struggling” in literacy, be screened.

The Task Force was chaired by Cape Girardeau representative Kathy Swan (R), who said early identification of reading difficulties is key to helping children get the education they need.

“By identifying and addressing this reading failure, students will not only be successful in school but successful in life.  If our children do not learn to read they will, and cannot, read to learn,” said Swan.  “This small investment today will have long-term benefits for not only students and families but for the economic and social benefits of our communities and for our state.”

It is also recommended that schools require two hours of in-service training in assessing reading difficulties.  Currently schools are required only to offer such training.

Swan said it is also important that Missouri colleges’ and universities’ teacher education programs address dyslexia characteristics, identification, and intervention.

Task Force member Erica Lembke chairs the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri.  She said she is excited about what the recommendations could mean for teacher education programs.

Erica Lembke, chair of the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri, comments on the report of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

“It’s critically important that this content is delivered and infused in our teacher preparation courses at the colleges and universities in Missouri,” said Lembke.

The Task Force’s report says the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) should recommend a process for universal screening that includes a multi-tiered support system.  It stresses that districts should make clear to parents that a positive screening for dyslexia is not a diagnosis.

The Task Force was created with the passage of House Bill 2379 in 2016.  It required that public schools in Missouri screen for dyslexia and related disorders, and established that DESE would develop rules for screenings based on the Task Force’s recommendations.

Earlier story:  Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia holds first hearing, Rep. Swan selected as chair

House refuses additional reductions to MU in higher education budget

The state House has finalized its proposed budget for state aid to colleges and universities for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  Another favorable vote will send that plan to the Senate for its consideration.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That plan would reduce funding to the University of Missouri by 9-percent, or $50-million, compared to the current fiscal year.  This was part of a reduction across all higher education due to the need to reduce spending.  Lawmakers blocked on Tuesday attempts to take additional money from MU.  House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) urged legislators to not seek to penalize MU over its handling of racial tensions, as many sought to do during last year’s budget debates.

“I don’t like any more than any of you do some of the things that have happened over the last year-and-a-half at the University.  That being said, there is a new president at the institution.  He has already started implementing changes.  I think that a little over 9-percent cut to their operating budget in one year is pretty significant,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I think that if we continue to cut the University of Missouri system the message that we are sending across the state is that we’re going beyond punitive reductions at that point.  At that point I think we’re sending the message that we are expecting the University to raise tuition to make up the difference that we are going to be causing here if we continue to go down this path.”

Some lawmakers still wanted to take more from MU.  Ash Grove Republican Mike Moon wanted to take $1-million from the University to promote tourism.

“One thing that keeps ringing in my mind is $2-million in hidden bonuses that were uncovered by the state auditor,” said Moon, referring to a recent finding regarding the university.  “Maybe I should’ve been more diligent and directed where that money be taken, and maybe salaries need to be looked at.  These bonuses, though, have to stop,” said Moon.

Moon’s amendment was rejected.

The House also rejected attempts to redirect money that goes toward Lincoln University’s land grant status and the federal dollars that come with it.  This was of particular importance to Democrats, including the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, Michael Butler (D-St. Louis).

“We are in danger again this year for a university in the State of Missouri losing those matching funds,” said Butler.  “A lot of work on both sides of the aisle has gone into this.  We’re very happy with the result even though we’re still $3.6-million away [from where we’d like to be].” 

Democrats attempted to remove language in the higher education budget that blocks state money from going to higher education institutions that offer less than the international tuition rate, or scholarships, to students lacking lawful immigration status.

Kansas City Democrat Lauren Arthur called that language punitive, and said it often hurts students who entered the country not by choice but with their parents.

“We passed this language a few years ago and we’ve seen two outcomes for these students.  First, they can’t afford to go to college so they don’t … or, they decide to go to college outside of this state, where we lose an individual who is a contributing member of society,” said Arthur.

Fitzpatrick said Missouri must, “prioritize the citizens of the state, and for that matter the United States, when we look at who’s going to pay the lowest rate of tuition … “This was never an issue until the federal government administratively granted lawful presence – not lawful immigration status; they still have an unlawful immigration status – but when they administratively granted lawful presence to people who were here illegally.”

Arthur’s amendment was rejected.

The higher education budget is laid out in House Bill 3.  The House is expected to vote Thursday on whether to send that and the rest of its proposed state budget to the Senate.

House proposal seeks move of historic African American’s collection to Smithsonian

Historic documents related to a key figure in African Americans’ struggle for equal opportunity in education should be elevated to a national stage, according to a state representative.

Lloyd Gaines (Gaines Family Archive, University of Missouri Law School)
Lloyd Gaines (Gaines Family Archive, University of Missouri Law School)

Representative Joshua Peters (D-St. Louis) is offering a resolution that would urge the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators to transfer the Lloyd Gaines collection to the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1936 Gaines applied for admission to the University of Missouri law school.  He was denied admission based on his race, and the state offered to pay the additional cost Gaines would incur to study law out of state, as was the state’s policy at the time.  Gaines declined and sued.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gaines’ favor, saying that the “separate but equal” doctrine of the time demanded that Gaines either be admitted to the University of Missouri or that the state create a separate school for African American students.

The state chose the latter course, and created the Lincoln University School of Law in St. Louis.

Peters says Gaines’ case led to the Brown vs. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas, which found the “separate but equal” practice of separating white and black students was inherently unequal, and unconstitutional.

“In Thurgood Marshall’s autobiography he wrote that if it was not for the Gaines vs. Canada case, he would not have been able to defend or to advocate for Brown vs. the Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas,” said Peters.  “It truly has a national impact.  It’s the premise that was used to really change America’s educational system.”

After the Lincoln University School of Law was established, the NAACP was preparing to file a lawsuit challenging its adequacy.  Around that time Gaines disappeared.  What happened to him remains unknown.

Gary Kremer, the Executive Director of the State Historical Society, said Gaines’ disappearance is a lingering mystery of the civil rights movement.

“It’s hard to imagine that more than seven decades later that he would have vanished without a trace unless there was some foul play,” said Kremer.

Representative Josh Peters (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Josh Peters (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Peters wants to see Gaines’ documents preserved and displayed at the national level.

“I think that anyone who knows about Mr. Gaines knows the impact that he had when it comes to law,” said Peters.

The Lloyd Gaines collection at the University of Missouri includes the letters Gaines wrote applying for admission, and the University’s responses denying his application due to his race.

Gaines has since been honored by the University, which named its Black Culture Center and a law scholarship for him and another African American student who was denied admission.  In 2006 he was granted an honorary law degree, followed by the Missouri Bar Association issuing him a posthumous law license.  Gaines’ portrait hangs in the University of Missouri law school building.

Peters’ resolution is HR 11.