- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29

The day before the 62nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education two weeks ago, a federal judge ordered the integration of the high schools and middle schools in Cleveland, Miss. Sixty-two years after the Supreme Court declared in Brown that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” Cleveland schools finally saw the hammer drop.

What was going on in Cleveland was, for practical purposes, no different from what goes on in cities across America, including St. Louis. On the anniversary of the Brown decision, the Government Accountability Office reported that 1 in 6 U.S. public schools have 75 percent or more poor and black or Hispanic students.

These schools “offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in 9th grade, suspended, or expelled,” the GAO said.

The number of separate but inherently unequal schools is growing, up from 9 percent to 16 percent in the past 15 years. De facto segregation is back, if indeed it ever went away.

The GAO report was requested by, among others, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who is concerned about students in Detroit’s schools. As white parents and students abandoned the city, they took with them the resources, including money and commitment, that help schools succeed. The key question for Detroit, and other inner cities where this occurred, was whether this was intentional or an unfortunate byproduct of other factors.

Conyers wants parents of students left behind to be able to sue suburban districts for “disparate impact” of segregation policies. Civil rights laws generally say if discrimination is inadvertent, and not intentional, there are no grounds for litigation.

But that could change. In a fair-housing decision last year, the Supreme Court said the effects of decisions that led to segregation, not just the intent, must be considered. This is the standard that should be applied to schools.

St. Louis saw a little hint of how this would work two years ago when students from failing school districts were allowed to transfer to any school within the county or an adjacent county. It was the unanticipated consequence of a 1993 law that, in 2013, the Missouri Supreme Court said was enforceable.

Suddenly kids from the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts were being bused as far as Fort Zumwalt schools in St. Charles County.

Suburban districts weren’t happy. Neither were the failing districts that had to pay high tuition at the new schools. The question is back before the courts, but most students are back in de facto segregated schools.

Separate and unequal schools exist because suburban districts offer an escape hatch. If America ever gets serious about its race issues, unified school districts are where solutions will begin.


Kansas City Star, May 27

The rule of law must prevail in funding Kansas’ public schools.

On Friday the Kansas Supreme Court found that the Legislature did not constitutionally fund K-12 education during its 2016 session. The court gave the Legislature until June 30 to solve the problem - or the schools must close.

That would be a disaster in Johnson County, which prides itself on offering some of the state’s best schools. It would harm the large Kansas City, Kan., School District, which has led the fight against the Legislature’s recent funding plans.

Gov. Sam Brownback needs to call a special session for early June. That would give the legislative staff time to comb over the 47-page ruling and try to craft a sensible plan to deal with the court’s concerns.

The ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers who have huffed and puffed about “activist judges” must not ignore the courts and thus threaten a constitutional crisis.

It was disappointing to see Brownback’s absurd comments late Friday that the court “is engaging in political brinksmanship with this ruling, and the cost will be borne by our students.”

In reality, Brownback and the Legislature have caused this entire, recent dismal series of events with their actions.

In 2012, they passed income tax cuts that less than a year later had shut off a flow of more than $600 million a year into the treasury. The Legislature has refused to revisit these tax cuts, while desperately passing tax increases that haven’t come close to making up for the money lost because of the 2012 decision.

Kansans don’t have time to waste seeing lawmakers debate bigoted “bathroom” resolutions aimed at transgender students, as Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle have promoted in recent days.

Stop that nonsense. Lawmakers must handle the very real problem in front of them.

Job No. 1 in Kansas right now is to keep the schools open.


Springfield News-Leader, May 28

Missourians have been fighting far too long to rein in the payday loan industry.

For years, citizens have taken the fight to Jefferson City, seeking help for preyed-upon borrowers.

But the movement to cap rates has always stalled with the state legislature, and that is why lenders can still charge up to 1,900 percent interest on loans - despite regular outcry that such rates are unethical.

Many lawmakers are hesitant to control private business, preferring to let the market adjust.

However, when it comes to payday and title loans, regular market conditions don’t apply.

It is true there needs to be a way for risky borrowers to get funds, and the interest rate for those borrowers is rightly higher than rates for “safer” customers.

However, the market can’t properly control the interest rate - an average of 450 percent annually - because it is often the only option for desperate borrowers.

So it’s no surprise that a city the Department of Housing and Urban Development designated as being in severe fiscal distress is also home to payday lenders at every turn.

It’s not just that those businesses are here because our impoverished area creates a demand. Those companies are also contributing to the growing poverty of southwest Missouri.

We’ve built a poverty economy in Springfield. Even beyond the 25 percent poverty rate, many others don’t make a livable wage.

Charitable organizations try to cover the difference, but can’t go far enough. Predatory lenders pick up the slack and cash in.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will present some new rules for the industry on June 2 in Kansas City. A group of Springfield church leaders will be there to advocate for reform.

However, the bureau has already said it won’t make rules on interest rates - we still need Missouri legislators to take up that responsibility. It’s long overdue.

Randy Scherr, executive director and lobbyist for United Payday Lenders of Missouri, said he’s worried about the upcoming rules, saying it will “take away consumer options that have been very popular and used quite a bit.”

To call payday loans a “consumer option” is insensitive and disingenuous.

Payday lenders aren’t competing against banks or credit unions, they’re competing against hunger and eviction.

Scherr and others in the industry have had too much influence for too long. Predatory lenders line their pockets while Springfield residents struggle to eat and stay sheltered.

Local advocates, including church leaders, are to be commended for their ongoing fight against predatory lending. Local leaders who have sought alternative lending options for the poor are also partners in this battle.


St. Joseph News-Press, May 28

Missourians are poorly served when Attorney General Chris Koster does not at least put up a fight against overreaching federal authorities dictating bathroom policies in our public schools.

The Obama administration has a clear pattern of inserting itself into matters that are rightly the domain of state and local authorities. And nothing is more local than public education. We should rue the day when we give up local control.

The current issue is a new policy saying public schools must permit transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, no matter how uncomfortable - or even unsafe - that might make other students feel.

The government positions this as “guidance” but also threatens a loss of federal funds unless schools “treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex.”

Attorney generals in 11 states, along with a governor and some school districts, have sued the federal government to stop this action. Koster stopped short, instead saying only he believed President Obama had moved “too quickly and too unilaterally” and the state would advocate for local control of school districts as related court cases are argued.

That’s frankly not good enough for most Missouri citizens. The interests of the great majority of citizens who oppose this intrusion into our public schools should be vigorously defended.

The fact that politics apparently is a factor in this decision makes it even less palatable. Koster, a Democrat as is Obama, is running to replace incumbent Gov. Jay Nixon, also a Democrat. Most of the states that joined the lawsuit are controlled by Republicans.

We have heard from numerous citizens in Northwest Missouri who want to make clear they are not making a judgment on someone’s sexual orientation; specifically, they reject the idea they are bigoted or discriminatory. And yet, all want it known they feel harmed by this policy.

This is the message of the 11-state lawsuit. Among its claims as recounted in The Wall Street Journal:

The directive is a “massive social experiment” that attempts to unilaterally redefine antidiscrimination laws to cover transgender bathroom rights in schools. The directive disregards commonsense policies and practices already in place. At the same time, it unconstitutionally attempts to create new law without involvement of the legislative branch.

These arguments ring true for most people, including most Missourians. It’s disappointing our attorney general is not pressing them in federal court.

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