By Associated Press - Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Joplin Globe, Sept. 13

In the wee hours of the morning Sept. 3, the Missouri Senate shut off debate in order to pass a measure to allow the Missouri attorney general to intervene in local prosecutions; the House should reject the bill.

We thought this proposal dead, and this editorial board earlier commended the Legislature on its sound judgment in rebuking the governor when he proposed adding the measure to an omnibus bill containing his favored public safety measures. That bill looked certain to pass, but lawmakers walked away from the special session, effectively killing the omnibus bill because of the governor’s last-minute addition.

As we said then, empowering the state attorney general to intervene to undercut a local prosecutor is a bad idea. It has the huge potential for political abuse and is antithetical to local control, a principle Republican lawmakers should stand firmly behind.

In our state, the attorney general primarily acts to defend state law and represent state agencies in court. The office has limited authority to prosecute, given most crimes are charged and prosecuted locally, though local authorities can request help from the attorney general if needed. The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys has written to strongly object to the proposal.

Though Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Gov. Mike Parson have said the goal of the bill is to help fight a surge in violent crime in Missouri’s larger cities, it is pretty clear the bill’s primary goals are political, intended to slap down St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner, a Democrat who is the city’s first Black prosecutor. She is loathed by conservatives for investigating former Gov. Eric Greitens, for other investigations and statements, and for her actions in office. The measure would expire in 2023, a year before Gardner and Schmitt are up for reelection. The expiration date was probably added to bring votes from those afraid the other side might take advantage of the measure if it won the office; we see the deadline as providing strong evidence the effort is chiefly political.

Intervention in prosecutions should never be a political tool, nor should the prosecutions themselves. Too much legislation has become political theater, and this bill is one of the worst.

Keep control local. Keep prosecutions local. Reject this bill.


Kansas City Star, Sept. 14

A bulletin board at Bingham Middle School in Independence was set to welcome students with messages of inclusion, declaring, “You matter!” The letters “BLM” and the words “Bear Pride!” with a rainbow of colors were also featured along with the word “love.”

But before students arrived for in-person classes Aug. 24, administrators removed the poster. Apparently, telling students that they matter - and that Black Lives Matter - is verboten in the Independence School District.

A social media post celebrating the return to school that included a photo of the poster was also pulled down.

School principal Brett Playter said the poster and the tweet were taken down because they violated district policy. The Independence school board prohibits teachers and staff from expressing views considered political, religious or controversial.

“This would apply to instruction regarding religion, politics, Trump, Biden, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, MAGA, etc.,” Playter wrote in an email. “I reminded our staff about our board policy at the beginning of the school year as we are moving into election season.”

But saying that “Black Lives Matter” is not political - and it shouldn’t be controversial. Eradicating racism is a human rights issue, and should be an objective that we can all agree on.

Don’t we want every student to hear that message?

Addressing discrimination faced by students who identify as LGBTQ is equally important.

If supporting marginalized students is off-limits, Independence School District officials should rethink their policies

What does it tell those students when a message of inclusion is removed? Playter didn’t reply to that question.

Independence Superintendent Dale Herl, school board President Denise Fears, board Treasurer Matt Mallison and board member Blake Roberson all failed to respond to messages seeking comment.

Understandably, teachers and staff at Binghman were reluctant to speak out.

“Educators have long been at the forefront of the civil rights movement,” Mark Jones, spokesperson for the Missouri chapter of the National Educators Association, said. “The NEA has a long history of supporting LGBTQIA students.”

Expressing support for Black Americans’ right to equality isn’t partisan. Telling marginalized students that their well-being matters should be standard operating procedure.

The fact that Independence School District officials aren’t willing to say that is troubling. Hiding behind board policies is a cop-out.

All students deserve to know that they are respected and loved. And teachers and staff shouldn’t be muzzled when they let young students of color know that their lives matter.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 13

Given her history, it’s unsurprising that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to use the pandemic to coddle wealthy private schools at the expense of public school children by unilaterally altering the standard school funding formula in disbursing pandemic relief funds. Thankfully, a federal judge this month stopped her. But the episode highlights, once again, the question of why this determined enemy of public education continues to serve in America’s top education post.

DeVos is a wealthy Republican donor whose lack of experience in public education has been an issue since her contentious Senate confirmation in early 2017. What DeVos has mainly brought to the table is her affinity for private schools and colleges - including scam-prone, for-profit operations and fringe institutions - often at the expense of the public school and university kids who her department is primarily supposed to look out for.

She has made it harder for students to get debt relief even if they were taken advantage of by unscrupulous schools, and easier for religious schools to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender students. She typically comes down on the side of the monied and powerful and against vulnerable kids and families.

That pattern persisted this year regarding extra money appropriated for schools and colleges to address fallout from the pandemic. In the rush to approve the funds, Congress didn’t build in strict guidelines on how it was to be used. Given that lack of specificity, the clearly proper approach would have been to distribute it based on the rules already in place for divvying such funding between public and private school students. Such funds are typically shared with private schools based on the number of low-income students enrolled in them. But DeVos took it upon herself to change that standard to favor - who else? - the rich. Her self-created new rule steered tax funds to private schools based not on low-income enrollment but on total enrollment, irrespective of how many of those kids were from wealthy families.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of President Donald Trump, ruled on Sept. 4 that DeVos had no authority to take it upon herself to thwart the will of Congress, effectively coddling private schools at the expense of public ones. That ruling applies nationally and should be the final word on the subject (assuming the administration doesn’t just ignore the ruling, as it has in other instances lately).

DeVos has repeatedly demonstrated that she’ll find any avenue she can to divert public money from public schools to private ones, going around Congress to do it. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. If congressional Republicans still claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, they should be confronting this rogue education secretary at least as strongly as Democrats are.

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