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'Our Students First' makes sense for Missouri


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November 30, 2005 - More than 100 Missouri school districts do more than talk about putting students first.

They walk the walk. They do it.

With confident, can-do budgeting, these schools deliver 65 percent of the public's education dollar, or more, directly to classrooms, which is where learning occurs.

While some administrators attacked my suggestion that we do better for students and teachers, the districts that do the best job show that reaching a 65 percent mark is essentially a matter of buckling down, sharpening the budget pencil, and doing better for classrooms.

Statewide, an average of 61 cents in each dollar actually reaches a classroom.

Clearly, 65 percent is achievable, despite grousing by some administrators.

If Missouri did well on pay for our teachers, the most important part of any school district's budget, I might have an easier time understanding the negativism and pessimism of some administrators on getting new dollars to classrooms.

But Missouri's teacher pay is terrible.

Two groups publish often-cited comparative national data on teacher salaries. For 2003-2004, one survey placed Missouri at 45th of the 50 states, or fifth from the bottom.

In another, we were sixth from last, at 44th.

Only one of eight adjacent states, Ok-lahoma, was lower than Missouri.

Thus, teacher compensation in Missouri lags not only the United States, but also lags Arkansas, Kentucky, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee.

Based on these facts who could possibly argue that we are doing a proper job of getting the people's hard-earned dollar to the classroom?

I am a parent. I pay taxes. I say that Missouri must do more to retain the many gifted, effective, and devoted teachers we have, and to recruit the best and brightest younger teachers.

If we trail the nation and our neighbors in teacher pay, a taxpayer might wonder, where has our money been going?

I am compelled to point out that pay in-creases for administrators have been nothing short of massive since the early 1990s.

Since the 1992-1993 school year, the average Missouri superintendent has re-ceived three times the additional compensation that has been found for teachers.

When a board provided $10 more in a teacher's pay envelope, on average, it in-creased superintendent pay by $30.

I certainly value the work of superintendents, but I value teachers more. The classroom is where learning occurs. When new money goes to schools and teachers fall further behind, we do not have our priorities right.

It is wrong to give teachers a $1 raise when the highest paid employees are getting $3.

It is not wise. It is not fair. It is wrong.

If Missouri voters establish a higher standard for kids and teachers as state policy, what will it mean?

For a class of 20 children, more than $6,000 in new classroom money will be-come available annually, for books, technology, resources, and more competitive teacher compensation.

Statewide, the classroom gain will exceed $270 million, which will come on top of $158 million in new funds we provided this year, by getting control of welfare spending and investing the savings in public education.

"Putting Our Students First'' makes sense today, and for Missouri's future.

Matt Blunt serves as governor of Mis-souri.

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