Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who has relentlessly maneuvered since July to remove the state’s top education official, Commissioner Margie Vandeven, finally got her fired on Friday. Why has he been so focused on replacing Vandeven, a popular leader with school boards, administrators and teachers across the state?
Greitens graduated from Parkway North High School, a public school in St. Louis, after which he attended Duke University and then Oxford University to earn a doctorate. From this, we can infer that Missouri K-12 public education served our governor well.
He’s not alone. Many Missourians attest to the positive impact that the state’s public schools have had on their lives. Missouri boasts a high school graduation rate of over 87 percent, placing our state in the top 20 percent nationally.
While no institution is perfect, our public education serves us well, so most Missourians approve of the work that their local educators are doing. As Governor, Greitens needs to ask Missourians how they view their public schools.
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Instead, he’s interfering with an institution that works. This leads to the next question: Why doesn’t the governor focus his attention and efforts on what does need to be fixed? What about the state’s roads and infrastructure? And what about the jobs that could be added to our economy if more workers were hired to address these needs?
What about the drug crisis? According to the Department of Health and Senior Services, one of every 66 deaths in Missouri in 2016 was due to an opioid or heroin overdose. What about Missouri’s poverty rate?
Missouri has the 12th-highest percentage of food-insecure households in the nation. It ranks similarly when it comes to households that use high-cost, high-risk forms of credit, such as payday loans, to make ends meet each month.
Clearly, the governor has plenty of problems to attend to. So why was he so intent on replacing Vandeven? What data and reasoning can Greitens offer to support his claim that the state needs a new commissioner of education? Even his own party members disagree with him. Sen. Gary Romine, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, stated that when the Board of Education voted on Nov. 21 to retain Vandeven, it was a “win for public education in this state.”
This leads to another question for the governor: Why has he, a Republican who repeatedly decried top-down bureaucratic structures in his writings and his 2016 election campaign, now chosen to abandon his conservative stance on bureaucratic interference? Why does he want to meddle in Missouri’s K-12 public education system?
Greitens needs to gain Missourians’ trust by being transparent. A former Missouri politician whom Greitens once claimed to admire, Harry Truman, aptly explained it this way: “You have to get around and listen to what people are saying.”
Gov. Greitens needs to come out of his office and listen to the people and answer our questions — about why he wants to fix what isn’t broken, instead of working to fix what is.
If the governor had only chosen to follow Truman’s advice, he would know that Vandeven is a well-respected leader who knows our state’s education system well.
So my final question for the governor is this: Why did you work so hard to replace Vandeven with an unnamed person from another state whose professional experience focuses on privatization, and not on the governance of our state’s public schools?
We’re watching for him to emerge and respond.
Maridella Carter is an educator in Blue Springs.