Editor’s Note: Below is a copy of the letter we sent to DESE in regards to the politicization of the State Board of Education.
November 14, 2017
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Missouri State Board of Education
205 Jefferson St.
Jefferson City, MO 65101
Dear Missouri State Board of Education Members:
The Missouri State Teachers Association is deeply troubled by the politicization of the State Board of Education. Recent actions by Gov. Eric Greitens and several newly appointed board members highlight the important safeguards the framers of the Missouri Constitution put in place to ensure that public education in Missouri remained focused on what is best for students, not politicians. Perhaps a brief review is in order.
In a Special Election on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 1945, Missouri citizens adopted a new Constitution for the state with a clear direction for education, removing partisan politics from the State Department of Education. The previous Missouri Constitution allowed for a board where an elected superintendent of public schools presided as president of the board and the governor, secretary of state and attorney general served as ex officio members forming the State Board of Education.
In the Address to the People, adopted by the members of the Constitutional Convention, the education provisions were outlined: “The board’s principal function is to select a state commissioner of education and to advise with him on general educational policy. The commissioner’s tenure will depend upon his fitness, educational leadership and service rendered. We anticipate that a continuity of policy in the field of education will result.”
Included in documents from the 1943-1944 Constitutional Convention of Missouri, the members of the convention outlined that an appointed commissioner would permit a continuity of service for that office and that an eight-member board would allow wide representation across the state. The inclusion of staggered terms for the members would prevent domination of the board by any governor of the state.
The attempted ouster of a sitting commissioner without any justification, by newly appointed and unconfirmed board members, is outside of the framework adopted by Missouri citizens in a statewide ratification of our current Constitution. When the citizens of the state are removed from the process, political opportunity and dangerous precedents sneak in the recesses of public policy.
A drastic partisan shift in the state board and the unprecedented removal of Dr. Margie Vandeven would be a step backward for Missouri’s students and teachers and a smack in the face of the citizens who ratified Missouri’s current Constitution drafted specifically to remove politics from our state school system.
The powers of a state come from the people, with State Constitutions being the original basis of our liberties. The citizens of 1945 had a vision, they drafted it, explained it to the voters and ultimately were successful in passing it. The Missouri State Teachers Association respectfully asks that members of the State Board of Education not sit by as the Constitution is rewritten by executive fiat.