STATE SCHOOL BOARD BLOCKS OUSTER OF EDUCATION CHIEF
The State Board of Education on Nov. 21 split 4-4 on a motion to fire popular and respected K-12 education Commissioner Margie Vandeven, handing Gov. Eric Greitens another defeat in his months-long effort to remake the state school board with the goal of installing his own choice to run the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a constitutionally independent agency outside of the governor’s direct control.
Since Greitens, a Republican, had appointed five of the board’s eight members, Vandeven’s ouster in a closed board meeting seemed imminent. However, one of the his picks, Claudia Onate Greim of Kansas City, joined the three veteran board members to block Vandeven’s removal on a tie vote, at least for now.
The day before the meeting, which the new board members had requested for the purpose of ousting Vandeven, Greitens removed board member Tim Sumners of Joplin, who had publicly expressed opposition to governor’s plan. Sumners had been appointed in September to replace an earlier Greitens pick, Melissa Gelner of Springfield, who had also expressed misgivings about removing Vandeven.
The morning of the meeting, the governor appointed Jennifer Edwards of Springfield to replace Sumners. However, the removal of both Gelner and Sumners appears to have violated a state law prohibiting the governor from removing state school board members without cause and due process. As a result, both Gelner and Sumners showed up at the meeting seeking to take the seat now claimed by Edwards.
While all three were allowed to attend, only Edwards was permitted to vote. A lawsuit is expected to determine who lawfully holds the seat. Whether any of Greitens’ picks remain on the board for long is also in question since none have yet been confirmed by the Senate, and some key senators, including Senate Education Committee Chairman Gary Romine, R-Farmington, have said they likely will oppose confirming board members who supported ousting Vandeven.
STATE MINIMUM WAGE TO JUMP 15 CENTS TO $7.85 AN HOUR
Missouri’s standard statewide minimum wage will increase 15 cents to $7.85 an hour on Jan. 1, the state Department of Labor announced on Nov. 20. The state minimum wage currently stands at $7.70 an hour.
Under a 2006 state law enacted by Missouri voters, the statewide minimum wage is adjusted annually for inflation. With the pending increase, Missouri’s minimum wage will be 60 cents higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
PANEL ELIMINATES LOW-INCOME HOUSING TAX CREDITS
The Missouri Housing Development Commission on Nov. 17 voted 6-2 against issuing $140 million in state tax credits for low-income housing for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program is among the state’s largest subsidies but also has been long criticized as wasteful and inefficient.
In statement following the vote, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who also sits on the commission in addition to having appointed some of its members, said that for every dollar allocated for the housing tax credits, only about 42 to 55 cents actually went toward building housing. Over the last decade, state auditors of both political parties have issued reports reaching similar conclusions.
The commission’s move was praised by those in favor of reforming Missouri’s 60-plus tax credit programs, which combined cost the state treasury more than $600 million a year in lost revenue. Advocates for the poor, as well as developers who rely on the subsidies for their financing, criticized the action. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who also sits on the commission, said it should be up to the legislature to eliminate the program, not the commission.