Missouri’s impact on local education and the challenges facing today’s schools were on the agenda for the latest meeting of the Northland Education and Business Alliance (NEBA).
Meeting Dec. 6 at the Gladstone iWerx, the group hosted a government officials panel comprised of Missouri Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-17), Rep. Maggie Nurrrenbern (D-15) and Rep Josh Hurlbert (R-12). All three detailed their involvement in Missouri educational issues and the legislature’s efforts.
“I probably filed too many education bills,” Arthur said. “But I want to make sure we’re getting the things we need for our students, our families and our communities.” Both Arthur and Nurrenbern are former educators.
Nurrenbern said that despite challenges, progress is being made on the state level. “We are finally making some long-term advancement in education,” she said. “We’ve been on the sidelines somewhat as other states got ahead of Missouri.” She said one of the positive areas is recognition of the need for workforce training so young students learn more about “real-world, authentic career realities they can’t even fathom right now.”
Hurlburt touted charter schools and legislation to provide parents with more school choice. “I think we’ve overloaded our public schools, trying to be all things to all people,” he said. Hurlburt also noted the need to change Missouri’s foundation formula, the amount of money needed to educate a single student. The formula multiplies that number based on student attendance, area cost of living and, in some cases, student characteristics that might require extra funds such as disability or learning English.
All three agreed that educational issues are complex. Nurrenbern noted that Missouri’s starting teacher pay is the lowest in the country, making it almost impossible for young teachers to pay off student loans for positions that demand college degrees.
EDC Executive Director David Slater raised the question of parental input and involvement. Nurrenbern appreciated the increased involvement in her children’s learning she gained from virtual learning that she could observe. But she also cited North Kansas City Schools as an example of how parental involvement must be targeted.
“NKC has 21,000 students,” Nurrenbern said. “You simply can’t teach to all of those (voices) at once. You need a balance.” She also cited opportunities for input like planning meetings that are open to parents but often lack for participants.
Arthur agreed. “Some of the proposals that I’ve seen would be so onerous for educators there would be no time in the day to teach,” she said.
Hurlbert returned to school choice and said it would solve many of those problems. “You should have the ability to do that,” he said.
Other topics included issues facing educators and parents alike such as pre-kindergarten and early childcare. Arthur said the issues are complex, and they impact many other areas. “Pre-k is really important for childhood development,” she said. “But it’s also a workforce issue.”
NEBA Co-Chairs Tatia Shelton and Courtney Reyes asked if there were any opportunities for support from Missouri for small business student internships. They noted many small businesses can’t afford paid internships while many students can’t afford unpaid work. The situation is a loss for both parties and a loss for the community because future workers miss valuable workforce training and career awareness. Still, they expressed optimism in part because of the quality of Northland leadership.
“We’ve got a lot of great leaders in the Northland,” Reyes said.
Founded by the EDC in 2006, NEBA is a network of education and business organizations working in partnership with the region’s economic development professionals to bring awareness of quality education in the Northland to prospective businesses and corporations. NEBA also strives to inform local students, educators and career changers about career opportunities in the area. For more information, visit nebaworkskc.org.
Shelton is the Career Services Coordinator with Metropolitan Community College and Reyes is Government Affairs and Workforce Development director for the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City.