“This is about kids. It's about making sure we're getting results. The fact is when you look at Missouri schools they've been heading in the wrong direction,” Greitens said.
Just over a year after being elected to lead Missouri, Governor Eric Greitens defended one of his most controversial efforts on Wednesday while touting his administration’s efforts to boost local economies.
Greitens hosted approximately a dozen reporters from rural media outlets at his office and took questions from each following a speech addressing various legislative accomplishments, executive actions and ongoing partnership projects in the works, reflecting on the past year in a proud tone.
But the question on several reporters’ minds was related to Greitens’ recent efforts of appointing members to the Missouri Board of Education to oust former Commissioner Margie Vandeven, which was done last week in a closed session vote.
Media outlets, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a series of scathing editorials, have criticized Greitens’ move as political manipulation and condemned his administration’s vague responses when pressed for clear answers on why he wanted Vandeven gone.
“This is about kids. It’s about making sure we’re getting results. The fact is when you look at Missouri schools they’ve been heading in the wrong direction,” Greitens said. “We dropped ten places in fourth grade reading, ten places, we dropped nine places in eightH grade math in the last administration. We were heading in the wrong direction and what we needed was a change of course.”
Greitens rattled off multiple statistics and rankings he said shows the Missouri public school system is failing kids by overspending on administration costs and underspending on teachers. He said he wanted leaders who could produce results, but didn’t specifically cite what Vandeven had done or failed to do.
“The fact is in the state of Missouri, administrator pay has been rising twice as fast as teacher pay. We’ve got more administrators per capita in Missouri than most other places in the country and yet our starting teacher pay is 48th,” Greitens commented. “We’ve got some administrators making a quarter of a million dollars a year. The people of Missouri pay for education at about the national average and what you see is extraordinarly well-paid administrators, but teachers were 48th. We need to raise teacher pay.”
Eric Knost, Superintendent of the Rockwood School District in west St. Louis County and the third largest in the state, wrote an open letter to Greitens via Facebook that has been shared over 2,000 times, questioning the governor’s line of criticism when local school boards determine superintendent pay.
“Your statement was highly critical of superintendent salaries, implying that we absorb money which should go to teachers. I’m unclear on the connection of this statement to the commissioner,” Knost wrote. “The commissioner has nothing to do with setting superintendent salaries for public schools, and the commissioner has nothing to do with setting teacher salaries for public schools. Local boards of education have complete local control in both matters, something I believe you have valued.”
On July 25, 2017, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Greitens had cut $4 million in assessment funding used to provide juniors in high school with the opportunity to take the ACT free of charge. But the governor sees it differently.
“Now we put more money than any other administration in Missouri history. We fully funded education for the first time in years and yet they went and cut funding for the ACT, when we specially asked them to keep that because it was important for students, important for parents, it was important for teachers and it was important for us to be able to evaluate our school system,” Greitens said. “The bottom line is we’ve been heading in the wrong direction. We need to have people making decisions in the best interest of the students.”
Greitens signed his first budget into law in July, pledging to cut more than a quarter of a billion dollars from spending. Greitens authorized a 9 percent cut in core funding to save $24 million in spending on Missouri’s public universities. K-12 schools will see roughly $15 million less than lawmakers approved for transportation and school bus costs.
“Although he is withholding money for school busing, Greitens did not touch a plan by lawmakers to fully fund the school aid formula, which will pump $3.4 billion into K-12 education,” The Post-Dispatch reported in July.
The governor said the issue is not whether the money is there but how it is being used.
“When you see they’re cutting the ACT, which they should be keeping, that’s a bad decision. When you look at the whole system, and the money is there, people are paying at the national average for our schools. Why are our teachers 48th in starting pay?” he said. “We need to reorient the bureaucracy so the money is actually going into the classroom, actually helping our students and teachers. Show me the results you’re getting for the money that people are spending.”
Greitens was most proud of his administration’s efforts to relax business regulations and review some nearly 5,000 comments submitted through his regulation review website, NoMoRedTape.com.
“Our number one priority when we came into office was to create jobs. Our first six months in office, Missouri moved up nine places for best states to do business. Companies are investing, businesses are growing,” Greitens said. “Around the country and around the world people are seeing Missouri is open for business.”
The first-term governor also said “we had to take on the trial lawyers,” claiming that “we passed more tort reform in the state of Missouri than any other place in the country.”
The Lake Sun asked the governor what the status was on the Rock Island Trail, which his administration had called for a review before proceeding with efforts to transition the old railroad line into a hiking trail that would connect St. Louis and Kansas City with the Lake of the Ozarks and the Katy Trail that runs through mid-Missouri.
“I have not checked into that in the last couple of months, and I should. But I will tell you from being down in and around communities at the Lake of the Ozarks there is lots of support for the Rock Island Trail,” Greitens responded. “Look Sheena and I and the boys love going to our state parks, we love going out to our trails and actually walking them, it’s a fantastic thing. You’ve seen what the Katy Trail has done for the state of Missouri in helping to connect a lot of communities and we think that is this is a really promising project.”