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Interim committee on education begins planning, holds first meeting

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A House interim committee for primary and secondary education held its first meeting today in the Capitol building, where they heard an informational presentation from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and laid out plans for future meetings across the state.

The committee, formed by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and led by House Primary and Secondary Education Committee chairman Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, has been tasked with examining education needs throughout the state and filing a report to the Speaker’s office by December.

Rep. Steve Cookson
Rep. Steve Cookson

Cookson said today during the hearing that the purpose was to give legislators a chance to “take the time and energy” required to give an “in-depth look” at education needs across Missouri. As the state struggles with school transfers for students in failing or provisionally accredited districts and implementing common core curriculum, Cookson said there are a large number of issues the committee will cover.

“I’ve got some things I’d like to deal with, but I’m only one man on this committee and I really want to hear what the other members have to say and ultimately what the public has to say,” Cookson said. “It’s a chance to really show that the people here in Jefferson City, we hear the concerns of Missourians, we hear them and we are trying to make strides.”

DESE Commissioner Chris Nicastro presented overview information today about a number of department policies, including the new teacher and school evaluation, the Missouri School Improvement Program 5 (MSIP 5) and the long-term goals of the department.

Chris Nicastro, DESE Director
Chris Nicastro, DESE Director

“Our number one priority for the past few years has been this, Top 10 by ’20,” Nicastro said, referring to DESE’s goal to increase Missouri’s performance in K-12 education to the Top 10 states in the country by 2020. “Many of our other programs and priorities derive from that one large goal.”

Testimony from Nicastro, as well as the questions from committee members that followed, reflected the wide range of opinions and concerns about repairing public education in Missouri. Some legislators voiced strong opinions on school transfers in the struggling Riverview Gardens and Normandy school districts, while others questioned Nicastro about funding shortfalls, early childhood development programs and common core curriculum.

The committee set tentative plans to meet between 10 and 12 times during the interim across the state. The final schedule is still pending, but Cookson said Poplar Bluff, Warrensburg, St. Louis, Kansas City, Branson and Columbia were all on the list. He said he hoped to have a final schedule for all public meetings across the state as early as next week.