HomeRural Teacher CorpsMissouri Superintendent Opines on Educational Policy

Missouri Superintendent Opines on Educational Policy

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Kevin T. Goddard, Ed.D., Superintendent for the Sarcoxie R-II School District, submitted the following open letter to the Center for Midwestern Initiatives and media outlets throughout Missouri.  Goddard suggests, to put it in the Ozarks’ vernacular, that we have let the cow out of the barn.

We welcome comments on Dr. Goddard’s thoughtful piece, and we encourage others to submit policy-related essays or features on the good work of students and teachers in rural schools.  We have been heartened by the recent upsurge in submissions to this site.

Thank you for your continued interest.

 

Gary Funk

Galesburg, Illinois

 

June 29, 2012

I would like to thank the Honorable Governor, House of Representatives, Senators, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education of Missouri for their service to our great state. While I serve as Superintendent of Schools in a small, rural community, I proudly consider myself a native, citizen, and servant of Missouri first and foremost. My actions should have an effect not just on the children in this school, but on the future we are trying to build together as a state. Public education is the forum in which every child, regardless of race, color, gender, poverty, wealth, talent, or natural ability, is given the opportunity to become a happy, fulfilled, virtuous Missourian.

Many of my fellow superintendents feel the state has broken its promise of adequate funding for our children. I find it disappointing that we are not able to fully fund the education formula designed when times were good. I also agree that the state has an obligation to do the very best it can for our children each and every year. But each of us must compromise between needs and wants when times are tough and the state and local school budgets are no different. Our elected officials have the difficult task every year of designing a budget where progress is made and everyone is only slightly mad about it.

I implore my fellow superintendents to understand that our elected and appointed officials work to meet the needs of many interest groups, not just public education—although public education should be everyone’s interest! As both Superintendent and citizen, I view the money the state sends to my district from multiple angles. At this point in time, if the education formula is fully funded, someone else loses. I don’t want money taken from veterans, or hospitals, or the disabled. I do believe there are many areas where legislators could take a stand and cut tax credits and other incentives to divert that money into essential budget areas including education. I also believe legislators should stop allowing non-education initiatives to be run on the backs of our public schools such as the ridiculous “Students First!” proposition by the casinos that promised $100 million for schools in exchange for $1 billion more for themselves and no new competition allowed into the state.

Missouri schools have struggled with being one of the lowest funded in the nation. Our teachers are compensated at a wage lower than most other states. Yet, our “Missouri Mule” stubbornness has allowed us to maintain some of the highest standards in the nation. Superintendents and school boards have managed to pay teachers, build buildings, run busses, feed kids, provide classroom resources, and manage community programs while putting money away for a rainy day. It would be nice to not have to draw on those reserves when we run so slim anyway; but schools can never count on a steady source of adequate funding.

Many other states’ education systems are in trouble after operating under the premise of perpetual growth and allowing collective bargaining to negotiate away their children’s futures. Missouri superintendents budget from a “Show-Me” philosophy as opposed to “counting your chickens before they hatch.” So far, our heartland, Bible-belt sensibility has kept us from making promises our grandchildren won’t be able to fulfill. Other states already run large deficits and find they are unable to make payments to their public schools necessary for day-to-day operation without borrowing more and more money.

Letting corporations take huge tax credits for giving millions of dollars to wealthy families to continue to send their kids to private schools will not fix public education. Opening charter schools that siphon money from public schools, until the for-profit corporations in charge of them dump the charter due to poor-to-mediocre performance and unrealized profit, leaves hundreds to thousands of Missouri children stranded in a more challenging, uncertain situation than the locally supported school from which they were enticed. Letting corporations run their schools by different rules and less accountability than our public schools doesn’t create a vacuum of opportunity…if it did, public schools would be invited to play by those rules too.

Each and every day, we educate children from poor, hardworking families who are too tired to help their children with their homework after school. We feed children who get two meals a day, both at school. We encourage children who haven’t had a bath in a week because their water and electricity are shut off to stay in school and better their situation. We embrace children who hold onto us because they desperately need a hug in return. We listen to children who proudly share their accomplishments because they know we push them to achieve higher out of love and compassion rather than a bottom line. We problem-solve for children who don’t tell us about their lives because they worry we might turn their families in to the authorities. Not every child is a success story, but enough are that I keep showing up to work every day. No shareholder, big-box store, contribution to a political campaign, or tax credit is going to replace the love, high expectations, and hope for the future a public school teacher gives to Missouri’s children every day.

We are approaching the General Assembly as if schools and legislators are opposing teams and someone has to win and someone loses. I believe in a bigger picture where we are all a team together with Missouri as the winner. This is our year to make a sacrifice in order that the team might win. Down the road, our sacrifice might pay off as we work as a team to protect public education from destructive reform efforts designed to close the only schools our students in poverty can attend, or undermine the small, community centerpieces of our rural heartland.

Legislators, you need to understand, just as my attitudes and actions are scrutinized by the community I serve, your actions and votes are scrutinized by your constituency. If your political alliances cause you to vote against the schools in our neighborhoods, which your public loves dearly, your actions will not go unnoticed. When you take a stand for higher standards and stronger achievement in our schools, and support those actions legislatively and fiscally, you are telling rural Missouri, suburban Missouri, urban Missouri, and Missouri’s children of poverty that there is no such thing as a lost cause. You confirm children are valuable to the culture and heritage of Missouri and we will do what it takes for our public schools to achieve excellence. Despite hardship and pain, we stand together as a state marching boldly into a future where every youth receives an education designed and maintained in each local community serving diverse needs from Sarcoxie to Peculiar, Cape Girardeau to Columbia, and Springfield to St. Joseph.

Regardless of the differences between us, I wanted each of you to know I appreciate your service and sacrifice to our state and to our children. Because I believe you will eventually fulfill budgetary promises made to the children of Missouri, I will do my part and gladly accept what you have to offer us this year. I hope you view our children and their education as civic responsibilities and not capitalistic opportunities. I trust you will wield the power granted to you by the voters to protect our public schools and our greatest natural resource: our children.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kevin T. Goddard, Superintendent

Sarcoxie R-II School District