Saint Louis, Mo. — Lawmakers from both sides of the state are at the Renaissance Airport Hotel in Saint Louis for the second annual Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Foundation Conference. Event organizers say turnout exceeds last year’s numbers.
The MLBCF is a non-profit organization focused on raising money for scholarship funds for Missouri students. In the last two years they have given $110,000 in scholarships to Missouri students. In the 29-year history of the MLBCF, they’ve given out more than $1.3 million in scholarships.
“An event like this gives us the opportunity to bring together a wealth of knowledge and experiences to tackle the problems that we are all facing,” said John Bowman. Bowman works for Sen. Kiki Curls, the Foundation’s president. Bowman serves as its Executive Director. “We are all facing the same challenges of how to create sound development in our communities, attract businesses and foster growth.”
“[Thurmond] really gave a remarkable speech,” Bowman said. “He did a great job of talking about how our students are assets, not the problem. If you’ve got large numbers of students doing poorly, it’s the district and the people around them that are failing.”
Workshops on criminal justice, technology, healthcare and education were all featured at the conference. Given the recent battling over what to do with failed school districts in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas and the students eligible to transfer out of the district they create, public education was on the forefront for many lawmakers in attendance.
“I think we have to find ways to improve our districts from within,” said Rep. Sharon Pace. “If you transfer successful students out, you’re losing the community base itself. You’re taking away from that community and making it harder for them to rebuild.”
Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, who serves as Assistant Minority Leader in the House, said parental involvement was the silver bullet to solving the education crisis.
“Parental involvement is the single biggest key to improving a child’s education,” McCann Beatty said. “If we can get our parents involved, especially in places where the districts are struggling, we can fix this problem.”
McCann Beatty called the transfer problem a “catch-22” that required both statewide legislative fixes and local community action. Rep. Courtney Curtis said that a mixed path of limited transfers may be the appropriate way forward.
“We want communities to be able to educate the kids locally, but we also want the kids to have resources available to them to get that education and if those aren’t in the district, then there needs to be a way for those kids to get access to those resources,” Curtis said. “So there’s a way we can accomplish this task by having districts work on improving from within while still allowing some amount of those transfers.”
Bowman said turnout exceeded last year’s event and that he was extremely pleased with the quality of workshops.
“Our focus is always going to be on providing scholarships for Missouri kids,” Bowman said. “But if there’s an opportunity to share our knowledge and network and begin to discuss all the possible solutions to our similar problems, then we want to facilitate that.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.