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Education bill stalls despite backing from Speaker

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bill that would establish new requirements for evaluations of public school teachers was beaten back last month by a 55-102 vote. The bill was largely opposed by the Republican caucus, despite the strong support for the bill articulated by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka

Now, a Senate version of the legislation sponsored by Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, is on the House calendar, and Jones has spent much of the week attempting to whip support for the measure in his own caucus, many of whom oppose what they see as a loss of local control for their districts.

At the end of last week, Jones removed four committee members, two from the Fiscal Review Committee and two more from Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. All four members opposed the education legislation Jones has backed. In fiscal review, Representatives Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg and Jeffery Messenger, R-Springfield, kept the bill, SB125, from leaving the committee when they voted against the measure.

Both were removed from the committee the same day as their vote, and were replaced with members who later voted to pass SB125 out of committee. After removing four committee members to move his legislation, Jones has struggled to solidify his support.

Jones told reporters more than a week ago that he had high hopes the issue would hit the floor for debate soon, but the bill remains motionless on the calendar while Republican leadership attempts to whip votes, wary of another loss on the floor.

Representatives on both sides of the aisle confirm that Jones began negotiating with Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, last week, a sophomore and the ranking House member of the black caucus.  Ellington and his fellow black caucus members will be offering amendments during the debate, should the bill come to the floor, that would likely dial back some of the provisions changing the power of teacher tenure.

Nasheed supports the bill entirely.

She recently spoke with some House members about supporting the bill and said there was strong resistance to the legislation because of political pressure — even among members of the black caucus — whose districts stand to benefit the most from the bill, she said.

“If you’re a good teacher, this bill won’t cause you any problems,” Nasheed said. “And I just can’t understand not voting for something just because you want to come back and keep getting elected. If I lose my next race over a bill like this, I can sleep at night knowing I did the right thing and I lost fighting for the schools of poor black kids.”

Jones, who was in the same class as Nasheed in the House and who Nasheed said is a “great friend and ally,” said he would not punish his caucus members for their vote on the issue as long as they vote their conscience.

“I’m not going to get mad at you or seek retribution,” Jones said. “But right now we’re trying to engage our caucus members and inform on the issue and see if we can’t get 82 votes.”

The situation represents one of the few issues dividing the typically united Republican caucus. With the exception of a small number of labor issues, no bill has seen a larger rebellion of the majority caucus than education legislation backed by the Speaker.