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Recent Missouri editorials

December 12, 2017

The St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 5

University of Missouri puts emphasis on basics

Supporters of the University of Missouri-Columbia should find encouragement in proposals under discussion that prioritize student needs first, then the needs of the state.

A byproduct of this focus is the university will benefit as well. But for that to happen, MU must excel at providing an affordable, quality higher education to its students, and the state must reap the rewards of having a more highly skilled workforce.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

These overlapping interests are at the heart of five goals an MU committee on enrollment initiatives will consider before submitting a refined plan in March. The goals, as drafted, propose to accomplish these things by 2023:

? Increase the annual number of incoming undergraduate students to 6,000 (this fall, the university had 5,136 first-time students).

? Improve first-year undergraduate retention to 93 percent, up from 87 percent currently.

? Improve four-year undergraduate graduation rates to 52.8 percent, up from 44 percent currently.

? Increase degree and credential completions to 10,000 a year, up from 9,150 last year.

? Ensure 95 percent of graduates are employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation (no comparison was provided).

These kinds of objectives are increasingly common on the campuses of public higher education institutions. Some of the goals appear more attainable than others, but all have their place in keeping the university focused on the right things.

First-time student enrollment took a hit after MU’s image was tarnished following campus protests over racial issues in November 2015. The new administration seems to understand fixing that problem starts with addressing those issues, and we have seen substantial progress in engaging students in this process.

Improving four-year graduation rates and ensuring grads are employed (or in graduate school) within six months has risen in importance in recent years. This is one of the clearest paths to lowering the cost of higher education and making it more accessible to a broader range of students: become more efficient at producing graduates and putting them into the workforce without unwarranted delays.

Finally, the goal of raising the overall number of degrees and credentials awarded each year holds promise for reestablishing our flagship university as critical to our state’s success.

The point has been well made by advocates for this priority that adding hundreds more college graduates to the workforce each year would make a difference across Missouri.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 9

Greitens promised transparency. He delivers evasion and darkness

Gov. Eric Greitens fools himself into thinking he’s a thorn in the side of journalists. He’s so proud of his ability to skirt accountability, “Disrupting the Mainstream Media” was his panel-discussion presentation at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Texas last month.

If Missourians think that’s an admirable leadership quality, they should think again. The news media can and will find a way around the governor’s evasive tactics, as demonstrated in a Post-Dispatch series starting Sunday shining light on the many sordid ways the governor hides his activities from public view.

Greitens is playing all Missourians for patsies. When he stashes away millions in “dark money” campaign contributions and avoids answering tough policy questions from reporters, he gambles that voters simply don’t care or aren’t paying attention.

Unlike his carefully cultivated, macho image as a former Navy SEAL, Greitens reflects a more cowardly demeanor — someone who slinks behind the scenes and hides behind bodyguards to avoid reporters’ questions.

Real leaders do not behave this way. Real leaders stand up for their actions before the public they serve. Appearing before carefully selected audiences of loyal followers, where orchestrated applause and praise is assured, must never be confused with accountability.

In Sunday’s first series installment, the Post-Dispatch’s Kevin McDermott contrasts the promises of candidate Eric Greitens against the actions of the now-governor. Greitens promised a departure from the corrupt practices of past politicians. He condemned “these secretive super PACs” where anonymous donors “don’t take any responsibility for what they’re funding.”

As governor, Greitens is the king of secretive super PAC money. He refused to release his tax records and avoided divulging who paid for his inaugural festivities. Items as mundane as the governor’s daily schedule and travel logs are state secrets under Greitens. Maybe because they reveal the extent of his extracurricular, non-gubernatorial activities?

When the veil of secrecy is lifted, Greitens’ discomfort level rises. Greitens failed to report that his campaign used the donor list of his charity to raise political funds, which is unlawful. If he thought he could hide these actions to avoid accountability, it didn’t work.

Greitens is especially protective of the sources of his funding and the amounts individual donors give. That information is relevant because it could show whose interests the governor is serving and where conflicts of interest might exist.

When Greitens secretly works to fire the state education commissioner or uses surreptitious methods to serve the interests of, say, industrial hog farms, is he motivated by political conviction? Or is this payback for a hefty dark-money donation?

“People need to know where their support is coming from and what kind of support it is,” said state Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff.

This isn’t about disrupting the media, it’s about holding the governor to his own promises of transparency.

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The Springfield News-Leader, Dec. 6

Auditor’s teacher pay report shows need for collaborative answers

Over the last few weeks, through news stories, public statements and private conversations, we’ve heard a lot about the happenings of the Missouri State Board of Education.

There have been discussions about political agendas, ethical leadership and the state constitution. We’ve heard about the value of public education and the need for something to disrupt the status quo.

However, throughout it all, we’ve learned very little about the condition of education in our state — that is, until Monday.

It was this week that the Missouri Auditor’s Office released a report about teacher and administrator pay, based on five years of K-12 data.

The study found that schools are increasing pay for administrators at a faster rate than they are for teachers — a complaint levied by Gov. Eric Greitens.

However, the disparity was even greater for charter schools, which is one solution many assume the governor will offer to change the landscape of education in Missouri.

The auditor’s report, though it included troubling information, was refreshing because it was built entirely on data aimed at identifying a problem. And that’s where we need to start.

Every party involved in these arguments about education claims to be acting in the interest of students. If that’s true, then they should come to the table without any other agendas. They must identify where there are problems in education and how they might make improvements.

That’s not a Republican versus Democrat issue. It’s not even a public versus private issue. It’s simply a student welfare issue.

A group with a common mission — even with varying political and social viewpoints — can use that mission as a rallying point to work together and seek solutions.

It’s a group that can use data like that provided by the auditor’s office, which identifies a problem that no one appears to be adequately addressing right now.

It’s a group that should be asking questions rather than making statements. How are some students struggling? Why is that happening? What can we do to change that? Those are questions we can answer together.

But we can’t do that if we dig in with our tribes. Children, and in many cases their parents, aren’t interested in who holds the power. They’re only interested in making sure they’re being cared for and educated to their best potential.

It’s time we stop politicizing education — it’s far too valuable to get caught up in a power struggle. This community has strong public school systems and thriving private institutions, both in K-12 and higher education. In our experience, those institutions are all seeking to do the best they can for their students. In doing so, they’re building up our community.

Let southwest Missouri be a model for cooperation. There’s room for everyone at the table, so long as they all have the same agenda — to help our students and support our community.

That kind of collaboration will lead us to answers.

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