Increase our taxes

We are a retired family living on a more-or-less fixed income.  We hope our taxes go up next year.  In fact, we’re going to give our permission in a few days for them to go up regardless of what happens to our income.

Jefferson City needs voter permission to raise the money for a loooonnnnnng overdue second high school and the school district wants people like us and our neighbors to approve a higher tax levy.  This household is unanimously in favor of the idea.

We don’t have any kids attending the schools of Jefferson City.  We haven’t been to a school play or a school concert or to a school football or basketball game in years, probably decades.  Haven’t been to a PTA meeting for even longer, probably.  We do go into one of the public school system’s buildings three or four times a year for the city concert association events but that’s about it.

So we have no personal connection to a school system that wants to increase our property tax bill by a pretty good amount.   But we want the system to do it.

We took a pile of income tax information, over which Nancy had agonized for countless hours, to our accountant a few days ago.  We’ll learn the damage before long.  Naturally, we wish we could keep that money but when we come down to it, we don’t mind paying taxes—because we understand what they buy.  We just hope the people we elect to distribute those funds do so in a responsible manner that benefits the general public. We confess there are times when we think those people could do a better job by putting more emphasis on the word “general”  but we haven’t met anyone yet who has come up with a better system than the present one for making sure all of us share the Biblical and the democratic responsibilities to each other.

Somebody has to pay for the things we expect government to do for us and we’re okay with putting our financial drop into the big bucket that finances more things for us that we can count. And education is one of the biggest benefits.

We’ve lived in Jefferson City nigh on to half a century—a statement that amazes us every time we recall the things we ‘ve seen and done—and we can’t recall a time when somebody wasn’t saying, “Jefferson City needs a second high school.”   Actually, Jefferson City already has a half-dozen or so public and parochial high schools including the high school program at the Algoa prison, a high school for about fifteen severely disabled students, and a Christian academy with about five students in grades ten through twelve.

In our household we think it’s important that children have opportunities to learn.  Not just classroom subjects, but the things they can learn through band, and science clubs, and school newspapers, and sports, and debate clubs, and other things that add to the creation of a thinking, active, inquisitive life that is to come.   We think a better future can be incubated when all of the eggs are not jammed into one basket.

And it’s the future we’re talking about here, a more learned society in a world that increasingly demands educated people who understanding that learning and life have to go together if hopes for a free humankind are to progress.   A second high school in our town will increase opportunities for our grandchildren’s generation to have a better chance to make that idealized future a materialized future.

We know that we write from the standpoint of ones who can afford to pay these higher taxes, knowing that there are many who feel they cannot.  We wish we had an answer for them for some of them are our friends.  We, and they, are left with leaving others who are in policy positions who have the knowledge to ease those concerns to recognize them and act on them.

Regardless of our economic standings, the thing we CANNOT afford is ignorance.  Ignorance is one of the greatest enemies of a democracy.  It is one of the first tools of the despot.  The control of learning and the limitations placed on it and on the circulation of public learning are trademarks of the societies we identify geographically and often culturally as threats to our way of life.  A visit to a nation governed by those who know ignorance equates to power and control is a sobering experience.

We’ve been there.  We’ve seen it.  We know that the American system of public education is one of our greatest protections.  We’ll be glad to pay more taxes to make that system better in our town.

We in this household are products of public education from our first days in a classroom to our last days in graduate schools.  We benefitted because our parents and grandparents paid the taxes that helped shape us as, we hope, good and responsible citizens.  We’ll be glad to pay some higher taxes so other generations will have a better chance to defeat ignorance and all of the perils it presents.

It’s okay if our taxes go up next year, even if they go up by a pretty good amount. In our household we think that the Preamble to the United States Constitution is not only a statement of the virtues we want in government, but is also a commitment by We the People to work through that government to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,”

Promotion of the general welfare cannot be done in a climate that impedes an escape from ignorance.  We will pay higher taxes because we wish to help create a climate that better serves the future general welfare of our city, our state, and our country.

Big government comes to Missouri

The State Planning Board in 1937 did a study of office space requirements for state departments in Jefferson City.  Your specialist in the archaeology of forgotten information uncovered it at the State Archives during research on the next Capitol book and thought it offers context for the discussions about what government should be these eight decades later.

In this era when “big government” has become a charged phrase, this report does at least three things:

  1. It gives us a history of big government’s early development.
  2. It explains why the phrase became a necessity.
  3. It explains why shrinking “big government” is easier to say than it will be to do.

We offer this to you as a prelude to later discussions of Donald F. Kettl’s Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence, a book that says big government is here to stay but today’s political approaches to it might be only  aggravating its shortcomings at a time when enlightened, practical steps should be taken to bring a 19th century system that worked for decades into a workable system in the 21st century. It can be interesting for those of us who are served by government programs but it might be even more useful for those who determine the directions those programs take.

The 1937 study concluded, “A new building is necessary for economy and efficiency in the operation of the State government.”   Here’s the history lesson from that report:

When the Capitol building was still under construction, the state government functions were increasing and the demand for office space likewise increased.  During the last fifty years or more, great changes have taken place in our social and economic structure.  Extensive alterations have occurred in transportation, communication, means of production, trade and commerce, and manners and customs.  New standards of civic and social responsibility have arisen and state government in Missouri, as elsewhere, has been affected and has had to keep pace with the influences of the changing world.  Today, the state occupies a different place in society than it did fifty or even twenty years ago.

Gradually, the emergency of railroads, the industrial system with its thriving cities, the automobile, corporate financing, public utilities and other products of the period confronted the state with problems of regulation and control which it had never before known.  An increase in the material wealth of the population produced a rising standard of living which, in turn, demanded a greater number and better quality of governmental services in the field of education, health, sanitation, and hospitalization of the insane and tubercular.  The awakening of a new social responsibility established institutions for the blind, the deaf, and the delinquent minors.  The automobile placed the state in the road-building business.  Problems arising from industry and urban life demanded that the state inspect mines and manufacturing plants and establish health and sanitary standards.  Decade by decade, as our society has grown in size and complexity, new services and functions have been demanded of our state.  In short, then, the state has developed into an agency for promotion of the well-being of its citizens.

The report noted the number of permanent administrative government employees in Jefferson City (excluding the legislature and the Supreme Court) had grown from fewer than 100 in 1900 to about 1,400 in 1936 because of that half-century of change in American, and Missouri, society and economy.

The first state agency to reflect that trend in an obvious way was the Highway Department. In 1907, the office of Highway Engineer was created within the State Board of Agriculture (not a department yet).  The position became that of State Highway Commissioner in 1913 and just four years after an entirely new department, the State Highway Department, was created—all in response to the rapid growth of the use of automobiles and the need for the roads for them.  In 1920, Missourians approved a $60 million dollar bond issue that started the Missouri Centennial Road Program, the state’s first major effort to create a coherent highway system.  The report reminds readers that in the space of less than fifteen years, the agency for developing the state road system had grown from one person in the office of another state agency into a “huge department” that finally had to move out of the Capitol and into its own building in 1928.

When the 1937 survey was done, twenty-two departments or parts of departments (not including highways) were housed in the capitol.  During legislative sessions they had to find temporary quarters in other buildings in Jefferson City.  Two agencies—the Public Service Commission and the now-Department of Agriculture’s laboratory, had moved full-time into the old post office/federal building that was across High Street from the present main post office.

By 1937, government had so outgrown the capitol that office space on the building’s first floor occupied 48% more space than the building’s designed capacity, the study commenting, “This has been accomplished by using as office space the cafeteria, vestibules, vault space, etc.  The second floor is seriously overcrowded.  In some rooms typists are working in such close quarter that they cannot freely operate their machines.  In one case, the fixtures in a toilet were removed and the space converted to offices.  The need for office space is so acute that it is planned to make use of other toilets for offices in the near future.

“While the legislature is not in session, certain departments expand their activities into legislative committee rooms and the Senators’ private offices.  Each time the legislature convenes, it is the same story. Departments occupying legislative quarters have to move, and each time the legislature adjourns the persons occupying rooms are besieged with requests to let this or that or other departments use the space.”  In those days, the legislature met every other year, not annually.

The Federal Works Progress Administration occupied “extensive space” on the legislative floors, including the Senate balcony.

About 2,600 square feet of space in the basement was improvised into offices that had no ventilation and no natural light.  Between sessions, ten departments or parts of departments rented space elsewhere in town.  During sessions, fifteen departments had to rent space.   More than 200 employees worked in a basement that became so polluted by exhaust gases of delivery trucks that many workers developed “sick headaches” that force them to take time away from work.

Missouri was not alone in dealing with the development of big government.  The Oklahoma State Planning Board had reported late in 1936 that Missouri was just one of 28 states considering new office buildings.

Big government had arrived—out of necessity.  It remains and it is a fact of life.  The result of that 1937 study was the Broadway Office Building.

In later entries we’ll review Kettl’s call for realistic thinking about the focus  of discussion about the direction of government.  In short, he argues without saying it: The goal is less about making government smaller than it is about making American government competent again.

Stay tuned.

Save the cursives   

Our computer has just helped make the case for what appears below.  This entry originally was written in a cursive type face.  But when the words were transferred to Word Press for posting, the computer threw a bucket of 21st-Century cold water on the Twentieth Century author and issued a Borg-like warning that all resistance is futile (Star Trek fans will understand).  Feel free to transcribe it in longhand to appreciate the original intent.

How sad that we have reached a point where a machine keeps you from reading what you have written as it was written.  However—-

Some school districts no longer teach cursive handwriting, what some call longhand. The means of creating the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, letters home from the battlefront, and thousands of our greatest and/or most popular books has been dismissed by the Common Core Standards. Missouri is one of 42 states to adopt Common Core although it was done only with a certain amount of legislative thrashing around that led to formation of a committee to recommend our own standards which turned out to be pretty much Common Core.

Killing cursive was the idea of the National Governors Association (have you tried to read the signatures of our governors or other high officials; they’re hardly good examples of cursive?) and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  States can, if they wish, put the teaching of cursive back into their schools.

But don’t make Common Core any more of a whipping boy than necessary.  Cursive fell out of favor with the enactment of No Child Left Behind, which did not include it on tests that led to rating of schools under NCLB. And if it’s not something that’s being assessed so schools can be rated on their quality of teaching, why teach it?

Life experiences have taught most of us that a lot of life is made up of things that were learned but not assessed in school.  We’ve talked to some teachers who worry that their schools are so obsessed with assessments that teaching and learning are diminished.

Why is this system of writing that most of us practice with varying degrees of legibility so suddenly so, so—Twentieth Century?  Well, say critics, cursive just takes too darn much time.  And as students move through their education and into the workplace, cursive handwriting isn’t as useful a skill as using a keyboard.

Why, heck, it’s not going to be very long at this rate before a replacement for Common Core rates schools on how well their students use their thumbs.  The rest of the hand is reserved for Olympic sports or musical instruments.

Some people believe cursive writing hones motor skills in children.  Some think it encourages gracefulness in an otherwise decreasingly graceful world.  We saw a story that ran on ABC News quoting an associate professor at the University of Staganger Reading Centre (it’s in Norway) who doesn’t dismiss typewriting but who says, “Handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.”  Translated, said ABC, “Those who learn to write by hand learn better.”

Some researchers suggest that the fastest handwriting involves the use of a mix of cursive and printed letters.  One researcher thinks people writing by hand can gain speed that way without losing legibility.

Cursive writing has all but disappeared in the legislative chambers of the Missouri Capitol.  It is so rare as to invite comment when a lawmaker submits a handwritten amendment to be considered in debate.  Hours of time are wasted each year while the chambers “stand at ease” so someone with a suddenly brilliant idea can consult with a staff member sitting at a computer who knows how to put together a string of words on a keyboard.   Some observers link a perceived decline in the intellectual capacity of our lawmakers to the decline in the use of pen and paper and handwritten amendments.  We are taking an official neutral position for now.

There are plenty of articles on the pros and cons of cursive writing.  But we’ve come up with our own ideas of why teaching cursive writing remains important.  It’s simple.

If you can’t write it, you can’t read it.  And not everything written is on a web page somewhere.  Sometimes you have to be able to read the original document.  Maybe it’s grandfather’s letter from Vietnam to his girl at home.  Maybe it’s the middle pages of the old family Bible where your family records have been kept for generations. Maybe it’s the original survey of your property. It could be anything and it could be highly meaningful.

There is something about seeing the original final version of the Declaration of Independence and the final engrossed copy of the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington.  Something about those handwritten words says something about the human striving that went into the creation of those documents.  Your observer has yet to see a thumb-written message that indicates any striving, and precious little thought, has gone into the expression of something.  Your observer has not yet seen anything noble written by thumbs.

Yes, these meanderings are written on a keyboard.  But at least, all ten fingers are used.

Not all handwritten things are easily read.  Many years ago, a friend sent a prominent Missouri lawyer a letter that told him, “Send me something I can read.”   Your faithful scribe has been working for a couple of weeks transcribing an 1846 lawsuit challenging the ownership of the land on which Jefferson City stands.   Some of the writing displays the elegance of a learned hand of the 18th and 19th century.  But there have been times when it has taken fifteen minutes to figure out one word.  And in typing the transcript of the documents, there are several blanks where the scrawl is so bad that we just ran up a white flag.

We fear the day that a new foreign language will be added to the list of college courses:  Cursive 101.  Advanced Cursive.  Honors Cursive.  Practical Cursive.  Maybe colleges of education will offer a course such as Teaching Cursive 256.  It would be an elective.

Wonder what the final exam would be like.

Notes from a Quiet Street—VI

—being another chapter of ruminations on things not worth full blogifying.


Good Lord!!! When is Chris Koster going to quit telling us the Farm Bureau has done the unthinkable and has endorsed a Democrat and when is Eric Greitens going to stop talking about being God’s gift to veterans and start talking about the rest of us?   Or do candidates no longer feel any obligation to tell us how they’re going to work with the legislature to rebuild our infrastructure, keep college kids from accumulating debts they’ll carry into middle age, take care of our mentally ill, and see that we are safe from one another?


That’s a key, you know.  The major national candidates seem to be running for dictator, not president. They’re all about what THEY are going to do, as if there is no congress that will be involved. Do we expect much more from our candidates for governor?


And how many of the candidates who are blaming today’s woes on “career politicians” will admit that they want to be “career politicians?”   We haven’t heard one of them say they only want to serve two years (or four) and then rejoin the masses.


Your obedient servant has been reading again.  The new book is Donald F. Kettl’s Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence.   He believes it is possible.

Kettl is a former dean of the University of Maryland’s Public Policy School and is a fellow of the Brookings Institution, named for Missourian Robert S. Brookings.  It’s considered pretty even-handed. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, after analyzing a decade of Congressional records, found Conservatives quoted its findings about as often as Liberals.

It’s a pretty interesting read for government groupies.  We’ll be talking more about it later, no doubt. Feel free to read ahead of us.


This might be a good place to list from time to time how Missouri stacks up with other states in various programs.  Our first entries:  49th in support of public defenders, says the public defender office.  The Brookings Institution in August listed us the nation’s sixth best state for advanced manufacturing job growth and 9th for output growth in that category.  A new audit says Missouri has had the lowest public university tuition increases in the last eight years (for which Governor Nixon delivers a big pat on the back to himself—although supplemental and degree fees have gone up 112% to make up for that accomplishment).  But the state ranks 39th in state appropriations to higher education per student, 43rd in state funding per $1,000 personal income.  Governor Nixon says our unemployment benefits rank 43rd out of all fifty states. We had some other rankings in an earlier post:


Did you know that the University of Missouri football team has won a national award?   This graduate of the school did not.  It wasn’t in the latest alumni magazine.  No press release about it has come to our email.

It’s not like the recognition came from some obscure special-interest group. Nope. This one came from ESPN.  And we wouldn’t have known about it if fellow UMC graduate Ray Hartmann hadn’t written about it.

Thanks, Ray.


Went to a class reunion recently in Illinois and listened to classmates talk about the disastrous state of Illinois government that they say is largely controlled by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan of Chicago, who has been the Speaker for 32 of the last 34 years. If you’ve paid attention to the news, you know that Illinois government is far messier than Missouri government (at least we don’t put our governors in prison).  These folks think term limits is the only way to get rid of political bosses like Madigan.  We told them term limits is the last thing Illinois should do to itself—that it’s been the worst thing to happen to Missouri government since post-Civil War loyalty oaths.  Madigan is 74 but my friends in Illinois worry that he’s immortal.

Their county’s state representative is seeking his fourth term this year. His predecessor served six terms before being elected to the state senate. Giving up the right to re-elect your own state representative or senator to get rid of one representative from another district is, as we unfortunately have seen in Missouri, a foolish thing to do.


The highway signs on the way back told us to drive in the right lane unless we were passing.  But, doggone it, the passing lane is always so much smoother.

Could Missourians at least approve enough of a gas tax increase to fix the driving lanes?


We have tried—and have failed—to recall a single candidate for significant office in Missouri or elsewhere who blamed himself or herself for their loss.  It’s always somebody else’s fault—the media, unfair statements from an opponent (ignoring their own unfair statements about that opponent), a “rigged” election system even after the loser had to win a primary under the same system to become a general election loser.  We’ve never heard any losers admit, “The people didn’t buy my stuff.”

Donald Trump already is putting together his list of excuses.  He’s already saying the election will be “rigged” if he loses. And, of course, the blasted media for reporting what he says.  Interesting, isn’t it, that the system that let him brag about how many primaries he won and how many votes he got wasn’t “rigged” then?

We haven’t heard who might be on Hillary Clinton’s list if she loses.  The press, of course, would probably be there. We suppose the vast right-wing conspiracy would be on it, too.

I’ve got news for these folks.  We in the news media don’t mind getting blamed.  In fact, the last thing most real reporters want is to hear a candidate crediting them for an election victory.


The Russian Olympic doping scandal and the banning of most Russian athletes and the NCAA’s investigation of the University of Missouri basketball program appear to have something in common.

Today’s athletes and coaches get punished for the sins of their predecessors.  That strikes us unfair.

We’re not sure how this could be done legally, but wouldn’t it be better for the NCAA to develop a way to fine an offending coach an amount (plus a penalty) equal to the amount of the scholarships the offending players received during the coach’s tenure and maybe require the offending players to refund to the University the amount they received for their scholarships?.  Or something like that.  Making the players refund their scholarship money might be a little draconian, though.  We’re not sure if they should know better when they’re 17 or 18.

And maybe an athletic director should get slapped around a little bit, too.

Missouri: nothing special

An outfit called WalletHub has been sending us news releases for about three years telling us they’ve been rating the states on various topics.

WalletHub has called itself a “personal finance social network.”  It’s owned by Evolution Finance, a company that says it can compare thousands of credit cards for best deals.   We’ve gotten its reports comparing states on various issues.

Various organizations compare states for various reasons and we’ve never yet seen a rating of the states that isn’t questioned by critics who have their own statistics that question the findings.  And it’s always good to look at the organization doing the ratings to see if there’s an agenda that is behind it (We’ve all seen the Chamber of Commerce, NRA, Right to Life and other ratings and endorsements in political campaigns).

One thing we have noticed year after year after year, survey after survey after survey is that Missouri, for all political self-praise that it lavishes on itself, seldom shows any exceptionalism.  The surveys paint Missouri as a state that either doesn’t try to excel or whose citizens and leaders don’t care enough about being in the top tier of states that they’ll commit to doing what it takes to get there.

Because WalletHub insists on being in our face every couple of weeks with new findings, we’re going to look at the picture this organization paints of Missouri.  Other surveys look at other issues.  But in years of reviewing these studies, the impression remains that Missouri talks a better game than it plays.  So here are some findings from WalletHub.

Spending: Missourians rank sixth in the country when it comes to spending money, based on ten factors. While many candidates have been bemoaning the $19-20 trillion national debt, none that we have heard voice any concerns about the total consumer debt, reported by the New York Fed in May as $12.25 trillion and rising for the last seven quarters. The increase in debt in the first quarter of the year was the largest since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Missourians apparently love to go shopping.  Making their state better in other important ways doesn’t seem as important.

Best and Worst School Systems: Missouri overall is 32nd.  We are 29th in a category called “School System Quality” and we’re 39th in School System Safety, whatever that means.  Thirteen categories are used in the “quality” rates.  Safety is based on disciplinary-incident rates per 100,000 students, bullying incident rates, and youth incarceration rates of people under 21 per 100,000. We are 41st in controlling bullying.  Missouri is the 24th best state for teachers.

But we are 34th in places for nurses to work.

And if you are a working mom, the picture is not good.  34th overall (27th in child care, 29th in professional opportunities, and 38th in work-life balance).

It therefore might be surprised to learn that Missouri is ranked ninth in women’s equality according to WalletHub (17th in workplace environment, ninth in education and 16th in political empowerment).

Missouri is 33rd in wealth, adjusted for population (36th in income rank, 35th in GDP per capita, and sixth in taxes paid per capita).

But we are the 45th most financially literate state.  Other factors smother our ranking of third in knowledge and education.

The studies say we’re the 30th among green states.  We’re 12th in environmental quality but rank 37th in eco-friendly behaviors and 33rd in climate change contributions—a reflection, perhaps, of ancoal-fired utilities produce)

These are some of the results from one of many studies that rank Missouri as a state that is often mediocre at best and poor at worst.  And apparently, Missourians and their leaders are comfortable being nothing special.

Myron Cohen, a comedian of the 50s and 60s who often was on the Ed Sullivan Show, used to tell the story of a husband who came home one day and noticed his apartment smelled of cigar smoke.  When his wife would not admitted she had taken up cigar smoking, the husband started searching the place and in the bedroom close he found a man standing in his undershorts. “What are you doing here?” the husband demanded.   And the man responded, “Everybody gotta be someplace.”

So it is with rankings.  Everybody’s gotta be someplace. 

Too bad so many surveys show Missouri doesn’t want to be someplace better.






When you don’t have to be quiet

Spent some time at the University of Missouri-Columbia the other day and picked up the school year’s last edition of the student newspaper, The Maneater. A special part of the paper was devoted to the turbulent year on the Columbia campus.  The staff ranked events in various categories including the Top Five Worst of the year.

The Biggest Embarrassment was the Missouri Students Association.  The Biggest Letdown was the performance of the football and basketball teams.  Among the other “worsts” was Biggest Frustration.

It was the Missouri legislature.  The school administration for understandable political reasons can’t say things that students can. This has been a turbulent year for the young men and women on the Columbia campus.  Only a few were involved in the campus disturbances last fall but all of them have to live with the results of what the few did and the political fallout from those weeks.  We thought Maneater staff writer Amos Chen’s appraisal of the Missouri legislature was worth passing along because it comes from one of the thousands of students who were swept up in the politics of the year.  Here’s what he wrote:

Ronald Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” 

Through their frustrating actions over the past year, the Missouri legislature has more than proven Reagan’s famous words true.

In August, former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin was called to testify before the Senate by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, about the relationship between University Hospital and Planned Parenthood.  All this, despite the Missouri Attorney General’s Office later finding no evidence of wrongdoing.

Schaefer was back at it again in January when an email from former UM System President Tim Wolfe surfaced where he claimed Schaefer pressured him to deny then-MU associate professor Josh Hawley’s request for a leave of absence to run for Attorney General.  In a revelation that surprised absolutely nobody, Schaefer also happens to be running for that position.

That’s before getting to the “piece de resistance” of the entire affair—Missouri lawmakers response to the Concerned Student 1950 protests against racial discrimination, and former assistant communications professor Melissa Click’s call for “muscle” making national headlines. 

In March, the House Budget Committee became the latest to jump on the “let’s screw over MU” bandwagon, passing a budget slashing $1 million in funds for MU.  The budgetary hearing produced gems such as an amendment by Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, reducing state funding for MU from $169,305,944 to $1 (not a typo).  The amendment was later withdrawn, not because Miller thought it wouldn’t pass, but because he was afraid it would.  I would write a joke about this but nothing I think of could possibly match the absurdity of this piece of political theater.

The Senate later came to its senses and restored the cuts, but it retained a $1 million decrease to administration to make sure the university knew who the real boss around these parts is. The final draft cut the UM System budget by $3.8 million.

From dubiously motivated witch hunts to politically influenced legislation, the actions of the Missouri legislature over the past year rightfully earns these legislators the title of Biggest Frustration.

We offer this with no endorsement or comment.  Sometimes the voice of someone who didn’t start a fight but whose life is affected by it says something.

Sometimes we wonder at the end of elections and at the end of legislative sessions whether the candidates or the lawmakers gave any thought to how their actions did anything to improve the public attitude toward government.  Amos seems to have given an answer.

The Aiken strategy for Missouri education

No, not Todd.   George.

George Aiken, once the dean of the United States Senate, a Senator from Vermont,  eventually decided the Vietnam conflict was a lost cause.  He was lukewarm about the whole thing anyway and finally declared, “The United States could well declare unilaterally…that we have ‘won’ in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam.”

Through the years the statement has been boiled down to, “Declare victory and withdraw.”

It’s happening in the capitol, where the majority lawmakers are about to declare victory in school funding and—


Your observer has commented in the past about the legislature’s refusal to meet its funding promises to public elementary and secondary education that were part of the School Foundation Formula adopted in 2005. It went into effect for the 2006 school year.  Lawmakers in those days realized the state did not have the money to put the formula into full effect for the 2006 year so they decided to phase in full funding during a seven-year period.

That might have been fine if the economy had continued to perk along but the legislature, as it often does, did not anticipate that the economy might dip, fall, descend precipitously, CRASH.  The Missouri legislature has never been real good at dealing with funding issues by making tax policy flexible enough to deal with the ups and downs of the economy.  There is usually a belief that everything will just hum right along.  Such shortsightedness, especially on tax and fiscal matters, is legendary. And it has been detrimental.

The economy took a dive a couple of years into this school funding program.  Governors of both parties and legislators were able to find a little money to increase funding, enough to brag that schools “are getting more state aid than they have ever received,” a rather disingenuous statement that refused to acknowledge the state was not keeping its 2005 promise. And as the legislature slid deeper into the slogan of “right sizing” state government, it didn’t even try to do what it promised public schools it would do in 2005.

So now, more than a decade after the legislature passed a school aid formula that it knew it could not fully fund and in the years since when it hasn’t even tried to meet that promise, it is going to declare a victory and withdraw.   The House of Representatives has passed a Senate bill that “Modifies the definition of ‘current operating expenditures’ and ‘state adequacy target’ for the purposes of state funding…”

Aww, what the heck.  We’ve never met our responsibility and we don’t care if we ever do.  Let’s just rewrite the law so we can change the definition of full-funding of K-12 public education.  We’re hundreds of millions of dollars below where we should be.  So let’s just change the law so that obligation that we don’t plan to meet anyway just goes away.  And then we can tell the folks back home that we’re giving schools more than they’ve ever gotten. Hooray for us!

Governor Nixon says passage of the bill will let the legislature walk away from being about $420 million dollars short of what our public school districts should be getting in state aid.

We won’t tell local taxpayers that we are shifting the responsibility for that $420 million dollars to them.  If they want their school district to have adequate funding—at least the kind of “adequate” funding we had promised them in 2005—they will have to pay more local taxes.  And if they don’t want to do that, fine. It’s their decision.  Local control is important to us, except when we say it isn’t, and this is one of those times when we say it is because we can duck our responsibility at the state level and brag about the latest tax cut that might put sixty cents a month back in their pockets. 

And we won’t mention that we’re not even fully funding the new system.  We’ve cut the responsibility deficit from $420 million down to about $55 million dollars.  We’ll just tell the voters that we’ve cut a state deficit  by 87% and they’ll think we’re doing a fine job and they’ll blindly vote to send us back to do similar great work next year.   

So instead of trying to find a formula that gives every child an equal base amount of state aid, we’ll let our school districts be all over the map in the money available to provide basic education. We won’t even try to fund a basic equal opportunity for education. And since school districts repeatedly send their students out into the streets to sell candy or popcorn or Christmas wrapping paper and stuff like that, they can just send them out to go door to door even more, peddling something that will help their district pay the light bill. 

Nixon has expressed a lack of willingness to accept the legislature’s thinking.  Don’t be surprised if he vetoes the bill.  But, of course, the party of “right sizing government” has enough votes in both the House and the Senate to override the veto.

Get ready for a lot more rings of the doorbell by children begging for money for this or that school program and a lot more student car washes, folks,.  Because the legislature is washing its hands of its school funding obligations.

Perhaps it is time for every school superintendent in the state to calculate how much their school districts could have gotten if the legislature had been meeting its self-imposed obligations for the last decade—and then listing the things the district has not been able to do to educate the public’s children because of that failure.  And maybe they should recount the number of school levies that voters have approved to make up for that difference, school levies that would not have been necessary.  And maybe they should mention how their legislators voted on this bill.

They’d have nothing more to lose by doing that.

And when their legislators come home in May after passing this bill and hold a town hall meeting or get a session summary article published in the local paper in which they huff and puff about giving schools a record amount of money, maybe their constituents will look at them with raised eyebrows and ask, “Really?”

“Who are you kidding?”







Jocks among us

Missouri Tiger basketball coach Kim Anderson was talking about team discipline the other day after he had suspended a couple of his players who were found to have some drug paraphernalia in their apartment.  Police searched the place because one of their roommates, not a university athlete, had been arrested in connection with a house robbery.

It’s easy to ask how athletes at the top level of university sports can so often get caught with drugs or be involved in drug issues or have other problems. As is the case throughout society, it’s the few who bend the rules, who think they won’t get caught, or who don’t think at all, who embarrass the many who behave themselves.

One part of Brandon Foster’s article in the Jefferson City newspaper that caught this reader’s eye was a discussion of the athletes’ living arrangements.  “A team spokesman said the team makes sure players have a place to live and that they’re paying rent.  The team will help players find a place to live if they’re struggling to do so, but that’s rarely a problem because athletes tend to choose one of the many off-campus developments south of the University.”   And later, Brandon writes, “Anderson said housing with athletes is a persistent issue with college athletes.”

We are reminded of our own freshman year at the university, living in 313 Graham Hall.  Across the hall, just down from the bathroom and the telephone was the room where Charlie Henke and Joe Scott lived.   They were the leaders of the Tiger basketball team.  Henke was a 6-7 center, the tallest person I’d ever seen, and Scott was a 6-4 guard.  They had to live by the same rules all the rest of us in the dormitory lived by, including “silent hour” when students were supposed to be studying behind closed doors.  In truth, there also was card-playing but it had to be done quietly because our Residential Assistant, the den-dad of King House, would prowl the halls with sharp ears and no hesitation about knocking on a door to tell the inhabitants to “hold it down” or to non-verbally suggest that card-playing wasn’t what responsible university students did during quiet hours.

Charlie was an All-American in his senior year and still has the second-highest season scoring average in the Missouri record book.  He got a degree in conservation science but found his niche as a high school basketball coach and spent 22 years at Carrollton.  Scott, who was called “the Gainesville Gunner” by Mahlon Aldridge—who began the Tiger sports network broadcasts—went to law school and is a lawyer in Poplar Bluff.  I watched him set the still-standing school record for points in one game—46.  That was before the three-point line.  Scott has said that his father once figured he would have had 65 that night if there had been the three-point shot.   (I was also in the stands the day Henke and Kansas Center Wayne Hightower got into a fist-fight that led to an on-court brawl involving fans and players.  I wasn’t about to get involved.  Too many guys were much bigger and stronger than I was.)  Both Henke and Scott are in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame now.

When we went to the post office in the cafeteria building that served the four dormitories in the South Residence Hall group, I would sometimes see Dan LaRose looming over the rest of us as he came to get his mail.  LaRose was a 6-5 two-way All-American end for Dan Devine’s football team who went on to a five-year career in the NFL.

Sometimes when I’d go into the bathroom/shower room there would be a guy in there swinging a baseball bat.  I think he had a minor league baseball contract.

This was, as I recall, university policy—that student-athletes lived in the student dormitories with all the other guys (Title IX hadn’t come along yet to create women’s sports of any substance and the idea of co-ed dormitories was not a matter of polite discussion).

One of the writers for the “Rock M Nation” webpage recalled a few years ago a jock who lived a floor above him in Hatch Hall, a 6-8, 275-pound tight end named John Matuszak.  Matuszak lasted only one year at the University. He was dismissed from the team after he beat up an Air Force Academy cadet who was a foot shorter and half a Matuszak lighter at a fraternity party.  He went on to a notable career in the NFL before he died young, at 38.  He’s considered an early casualty of steroidal drugs.

Anyway, in those days, those we still call student-athletes were reminded of the first part of their roles at the university by having to live with the student-non-athletes in the dormitories.

This was a looooonnnnngggg time ago when off-campus housing was fraternity and sorority houses or extra rooms in private homes or in the basements of homes.  But we don’t recall hearing about some of the problems that have made the news for several years in reporting on collegiate athletics.  The university has dormitory space for only about one-fourth of the students today and off-campus apartments are a big business in Columbia.

It was a much different time, a much different culture on campuses and in the nation.  Coaches have to deal with a lot of players who bring baggage to college with them that students and student-athletes didn’t have back then.   But having jocks among us in the dormitory had some values that worked both ways, it seems.

Would integration of the jocks with dormitory students work today?  Dunno.  It seemed to once upon a time.

But the whole climate is different now and coaches are dealing with young people coming from a totally different society.  Maybe there’s more growing-up that has to happen today than there was when a college education was a rarer thing.

We like Kim Anderson—spent a little time with him and his wife during a meeting in Joplin a few years ago—and we want him to succeed.  It’s painful to watch but surely not as painful as it is from his viewpoint.  Recalling the “good old days” doesn’t do much good in situations like his right now.  And, come to think of it, the “good old days” that we’ve just recalled weren’t all that good anyway.  The Tigers were only 12-13 that year, 5-9 for sixth in the Big Eight.  They would have losing records for six straight years before a new coach came in and posted a 42-80 record in the next five years.   Then Norm Stewart came to town.

He was 10-16 his first year and didn’t break .500 in conference play for his first three years.

Patience, folks.   Painful Patience.  But Patience.

A mell of a hess

Your correspondent has paid a couple of visits to the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus within the last few days.  Believe it or not, all of the columns on Francis Quadrangle are still standing.  The lighted dome of Jesse Hall still shines brightly against the night sky.  White campus has not crumbled.  Red campus still stands.  Peace Park is still peaceful.  The lions at the journalism school arch that are supposed to roar when a virgin walks by remain silent.

One would think otherwise, of course, after reading the seemingly constant flow of headlines emanating from that campus.  The inspection trip to Columbia became necessary after a fellow UMC graduate sent a note saying, “This is depressing” after reading Tony Messenger’s recent column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined “Somebody needs to drive University of Missouri out of ditch. Now.”

Tony, who was a terrific reporter at the state capitol before being demoted to editorial page editor, has recounted the seeming continued deterioration of the university system.  We say “system” although most of the collapse is centered in Columbia. And since the university system is so Columbia-centric, the screaming and the shouting (“when in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”) seems to mean in the public mind that the whole darned thing is in one mell of a hess, as Grandpa Motes used to say.

Well, it is.  It is because the focus is on Columbia but the ripples include the campuses in Rolla, Kansas City, and St. Louis in several ways.  Columbia’s the one with the football recruiting class that is 53rd in the nation, with a basketball team at the bottom of the conference that is hoping its self-flagellation over a significant recruiting violation under a different coach and a different athletic director will spare it significant additional flagellation from the NCAA, and with an apparently previously well-accepted communications professor who made an egregious emotional mistake during last fall’s demonstrations becoming the poster-child in a heated disagreement involving academic freedom, constitutional rights, personal responsibility, and competing political agendas.   It is a system in which one-third of its governing board has quit for one reason or another (one curator leaving even before the Senate confirmed Governor Nixon’s nomination of her), where a former system president who was praised for his graceful forced exit last year has now attacked the system’s governance and management, where Standard and Poor’s has lowered the institutional bond rating because of financial uncertainty caused by decreased enrollment and political games at the capitol, where interim leaders are struggling for stability while the unenviable task of finding a new president is underway, where—as Tony says—“black students and faculty feel disenfranchised,” and where one of the town’s newspapers recently reported that foreign students—who have been aggressively recruited because their much-higher tuitions provide minor help in offsetting legislative parsimony in financial support for education (at all levels)—don’t know who to go to if they feel harassed or threatened.

And we’re sure we’ve left some things out.   Oh, yes—a governor who has convinced the university to freeze tuitions so he can recommend the aforementioned parsimonious legislature give it a sadly-inadequate increase in general funding because the whole goal of government is to convince Missourians they can get more of the services they need and demand if they pay less for them.  It’s the same government that seems to think the most important things in higher education today are making sure nobody who even knows where Columbia, Missouri is can perform an abortion there while making sure all students can carry guns.

And the leader of the Senate says the university’s governing board will stay crippled for at least a year—until a new governor takes office because the senate will not confirm any nominees by the sitting governor.  That’s real helpful, isn’t it?

So, politically, the University of Missouri has been driven into a ditch.  But a lot of hands have been on the wheel.   If we listen to the Missouri Department of Transportation, ditches might be the best-maintained part of our road system today.  So getting the University out of the ditch will still leave it on the same uncertain road full of political potholes that it’s been on for some time.

But friends, there is hope.  And it is not on the road of potholes.

It is in the classrooms.  And the view behind the headlines is markedly different.

While all of the people who THINK they are important are playing their games, the serious work of educating another generation is quietly being carried out in thousands of classrooms, laboratories, studios, clinics, and offices on the four campuses by people who ARE important.  Walk through the Columbia campus and you’ll be walking with the young people WE were, young people busy being in their teens and early 20s and going about the business of becoming.  They’re talking and laughing, not spitting and shouting epithets.  They’re thinking and working.  Their teachers are shaping, not threatening, them.  (Well, except that the threat of a poor grade still hangs over the head of every student.)

In dormitory rooms and apartment rooms, at the Heidelberg or at Shakespeare’s Pizza’s temporary location, or in the part of the Brady Commons that commemorates The Shack, the students are doing what WE did.  They’re studying or playing cards or sleeping or—-.  Fill in the blank from your own memories.  Most of them do not feel harmed by the oh-so-serious power struggles among the people who THINK they’re the important ones, although in various ways they are being harmed because the struggles for political power are limiting their opportunities.  The REAL important ones are the ones with backpacks over their shoulders and hope in their eyes as they and their teachers lay the groundwork for lives they hope will be well-lived.

They are the university.  Their headlines are in years to come.  Walk among them and be hopeful.