The 2012 Presidential race may be underway and over-saturated, but the Missouri state-level elections that are rapidly approaching have barely even begun.
Speculation is rampant for a challenger to Governor Nixon. Peter Kinder, the formidable lieutenant Governor, was long considered the logical challenge to Governor Nixon, who has been relentlessly lampooned in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “King Jay” for his inner-circle of law school classmates and apparent aloofness (he rarely holds press conferences and seems to loathe town-hall style events.)
But as newspapers and local television continue to obsess over everything — from possible grassroots challenge from local businessman David Spence — to the continued pitfalls of once-frontrunner Peter Kinder and his recent scandals involving strippers, there is a key element that is being forgotten: schools.
The St. Louis Metropolitan area remains one of the largest in the region, and easily the largest in the state. But the public schools of St. Louis City, which lost accreditation in 2007, continue to flounder as Missouri elected officials endlessly debate trade deals with China. In fact, new trade relationships with China warranted a 50-day special session for the Missouri legislature, in which almost no tangible results were produced. Public schools have taken a back-burner position to economic woes and partisan floor fights.
The Nixon fundraising machine, poised to steamroll the Kinder campaign, has done plenty to tote the governors successes. And yet, even as Nixon continues to promise to “re-invest in public school system,” more and more taxpayer dollars are going toward vouchers for charter schools, many of which are not meeting basic standards.
The nation may be arguing about Democrats and Republicans, and they are certainly arguing about the debt, immigration and financial reform. But none of those issues will affect the citizens of Missouri or St. Louis as immediately as repairing the broken public education system.
Countries or counties with high quality education often experience some of the following symptoms: lower crime rates, less drug use, reduced unemployment and higher property values.
Education can be the silver bullet to many of the problems facing Missouri, including the inflating unemployment rate and exodus-like abandonment of the city of St. Louis.
Instead of arguing over the proper way to fix free education, the Governor and the Republican-controlled statehouse held a staring contest over $189 million in federal funds for public schools last spring. But don’t get excited, more than $30 million was to offset shortfalls in casino and tobacco tax revenue projections that benefit public schools.
Party alignment should matter, but action and words should matter more. Both Republicans and Democrats have spent more than 5 years running a state that’s largest city cannot grant a diploma from any public school. This is a failure not of political parties, but of politicians and the media. The conversations simply don’t revolve around education anymore. The failure of public schools in the city is almost a commonality among Missourians, an expected result of bad policies and lethargic elected officials, a casualty of political and socio-economic battles.
But those in dire need of education, the children, cannot be so casually forgotten. Fixing public schools should be the top priority for any candidate in the state this year. The answer may not happen overnight, but we can at least begin the conversation.