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Recent Missouri editorials

June 5, 2018

The Kansas City Star, June 4

With Greitens gone, could UMKC’s plan for a downtown arts campus be revived?

For now, financing for the state’s portion of a downtown arts campus adjacent to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is nothing more than a placeholder in the Missouri state budget.

During the legislative session’s final days, state lawmakers passed a budget that included $1 for the project before sending it on to the governor.

But that office no longer belongs to Eric Greitens.

What might be possible now that the leading opponent of the arts campus doesn’t have veto power?

As governor, Greitens was dismissive of the $96 million project, one of the top priorities for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

He vetoed legislation for the bonds to cover the state’s share of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s planned downtown conservatory. That started a chain reaction.

Without a state funding match, UMKC had little choice but to adjust its plans. Meantime, a $20 million pledge from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation was rescinded.

Kansas City’s philanthropic and educational community has regrouped and continued to press forward, just this month announcing the merger of the Conservatory of Music and Dance and the Department of Theatre.

Still, the line item, which could be increased to become more than a placeholder, remains. Greitens does not.

A spokesman for UMKC said: “We are continuing to explore all options for the new conservatory that we need.”

Might the original plan be dusted off and revisited? Nothing to report yet.

A spokesman for the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation declined to comment.

Legislation to fund the state’s share by issuing bonds was introduced in March by Rep. Noel J. Shull, a Republican from Clay County. The measure that was vetoed by Greitens had enjoyed bipartisan support.

Local leaders haven’t been idle while controversy swirled around Greitens. But conversations have shifted to possibly locating the facility on or near the UMKC campus.

Support for reviving the downtown option might be gauged after UMKC releases a request for interest to the philanthropic and developer community for the latest iteration of the project, a building that can accommodate the combined arts and theater programs.

The feedback from local philanthropists and developers no doubt will stand in sharp contrast to Greitens’ condescending assessment of the project. During a rare appearance in Kansas City, the then-governor made clear his lack of regard for higher education and the arts as a driver of economic development, calling a downtown arts campus a “building for dancers and artists.”

Perhaps local donors, who had generously contributed $48 million to match the state funding that never materialized, will have the last word.

It would be a shame if Missouri’s short-term governor managed to permanently derail a plan that could provide a long-term boost to downtown and the broader community.

As the university noted in an update from January: “Reports of the death of our UMKC Conservatory project are greatly exaggerated.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 3

Missouri educators must proceed cautiously with virtual learning

Expanding online course access for Missouri high school students in districts that don’t provide advanced classes to prepare students for college is a worthy idea. The Legislature recently passed and sent to the governor a bill authorizing such classses for all K-12 students.

But Missouri should proceed carefully to avoid pitfalls that plague virtual learning. Education experts say such nontraditional classes deliver relatively poor performance and low graduation rates.

Online classrooms also provide greater flexibility and freedom, which should appeal to students, particularly those in middle school and high school. Motivated students thinking about college may want to study Chinese or calculus, which would not normally be offered in their school district. They could pick those subjects from online courses.

Students would pay nothing for such classes. The tab would be picked up by their school district or charter school. That sounds attractive, but students and parents should be careful.

The National Education Policy Center updated its 2013 report on virtual education last year and said there is “little, high-quality systematic evidence that the rapid expansion of the past several years is wise.” The report found that only about 37 percent of full-time virtual schools received acceptable performance ratings, and that they had an average 43 percent graduation rate.

The report stressed caution in moving forward with more online classrooms, and said the push for them was “often supported by weak or even dishonest data.” It noted that in her confirmation hearings for secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos used performance data provided by a for-profit corporation that inflated the four-year graduation rates of virtual schools, in some cases by as much as 300 percent.

The plan taking shape in Missouri sets no limit on how many students could enroll in virtual school and allows them to become full-time virtual students. There is some cyberstalking danger in that lack of control. Educators are often the first defense in situations of child abuse or neglect. Children need to have face-to-face contact with adults other than their parents to make sure they are not in danger.

Missouri should make virtual education a supplement to onsite classrooms, not a replacement. There should be debate as to whether students younger than seventh grade can benefit from distance learning.

Public schools and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must make sure providers offer high quality courses. The state must ensure that students remain in their public school system and not become students of online providers who collect state aid without delivering solid results.

Distance-learning teachers must be certified in their subjects and parents should be involved in state and district discussions about whether to use for-profit or nonprofit providers.

Virtual instruction can be a game-changer for Missouri students, but educators should tailor the plan carefully.


Springfield News-Leader, May 30

Greitens complained of ‘forces’ in his resignation. We should thank them.

During his brief statement announcing his pending resignation, Gov. Eric Greitens bemoaned “forces” that opposed him.

He said those forces were trying to “cause pain and difficulty to the people that I love.”

It’s clear Greitens has political opponents — more than most, surely, given the struggle he’s had with both Republicans and Democrats — but there are many “forces” we should be thanking.

We appreciate the legislators and executive staff members that continued to do the important work of making Missouri’s government operate despite the dark cloud cast by the governor’s many sagas.

We’ve heard the stories of how difficult it’s been to work in Jefferson City in recent months, but many who were elected and appointed to serve have continued to do so.

We also appreciate elected officials who have called for the governor’s resignation or to push for impeachment. It was a move that was politically difficult for some, but they saw the need to do what was right, regardless of politics.

This terrible ordeal, which calls into question Greitens’ sexual conduct, shady campaign finances and seemingly unethical leadership, has caused many folks to join forces, in a way.

That doesn’t mean we’ve discovered some magic potion to make lawmakers and voters agree about everything. Legislators have, for example, untangled themselves from the tentacles of Greitens’ actions to debate tax policy, and that debate has been heated.

However, we believe good, ethical leaders on either side of the aisle have found a new respect for each other. We hope that continues.

We also offer a “thank you in advance” to Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, who takes over for Greitens on Friday. Local and statewide leaders were quick on Tuesday to praise Parson, who has a long history of service, from his days as the Polk County sheriff, in the U.S. Army and in the state House and Senate.

Like anyone else, he’ll have disagreements with folks on various political issues, but he’s given us plenty of reasons over the years to trust him as an honest, ethical leader. We welcome that kind of leadership.

There might have been some nefarious forces that opposed Eric Greitens, but much more abundant were those who sought a functioning government, justice for victims and a better future for Missouri. Those are the forces of good, and we thank them.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, May 31

Greitens’ undoing caused by his own actions

“He resigned under the weight of his own actions.”

Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit

You might love what Gov. Eric Greitens has done for our state in terms of policy, or you might hate the way he’s governed. You might find his personality repulsive, or you might believe he’s affable and charming.

However, hopefully, we all can agree that what led to Greitens’ downfall was not a “political witch hunt,” as he called it. He was not an innocent victim caught up in a whirlwind of jealous politicians, looking to further their political careers by using him as a stepping stone.

It wasn’t the Democrats that caused his downfall, nor was it the Republicans. It wasn’t a “reckless liberal prosecutor” or Attorney General Josh Hawley or the House special committee investigating Greitens.

Likewise, his undoing wasn’t orchestrated by his former hairdresser with whom he had an affair in 2015.

Greitens — and Greitens alone — sowed the seeds that led to his own political demise. His own actions backed him into a corner, and even some of the best defense attorneys in the state couldn’t give him any other viable alternatives to resignation.

His resignation came hours after Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem ruled he would have to turn over documents from his campaign and from A New Missouri to the House committee investigating the governor. A New Missouri is a dark money committee — one designed to shield the identity of Greitens’ donors.

The House committee was investigating allegations that, in 2015, Greitens stole the donor list from a charity he started to solicit donations that would seed his gubernatorial campaign. He also has been accused of invasion of privacy relating to his affair.

As of now, he hasn’t been found guilty of anything in a court of law. However, credible evidence has surfaced suggesting these are more than wild allegations. Meanwhile, Greitens has refused to answer questions that could help establish his innocence.

It’s such secrecy that has been the hallmark of his short term as governor. He has rarely answered questions or explained to Missourians how he has governed and why he has made the decisions that affect our lives. He has used dark money to hide his donors, and Confide apps to hide his communications.

All these things would be fine under some forms of government, but not a democracy.

He did the right thing by resigning. Unfortunately, his resignation came too late. It was too late to limit damage to his own party, and to fellow Republican Josh Hawley’s chances to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.

His resignation speech included no admission of wrongdoing, and no apology to his own party or to Missourians in general. Instead, he continued to label himself the victim.

“It’s clear that for the forces that oppose us there is no end in sight,” he said. “I cannot allow those forces to continue to cause pain and difficulty to the people that I love.”

We have no doubt that those people he refers to have suffered greatly, and that truly saddens us. Hopefully, his resignation did not come too late to heal those relationships.

We’re also sad for our state, and for the more than 1.4 million voters who trusted Greitens enough to send him to the highest elected office in our state.

Hopefully, the healing can now begin for us all.

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