The following statement was released by newly-elected Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, concerning his reasons for opposing the nomination of leading voucher proponent Donayle Whitmore-Smith to the State Board of Education:
Donayle Whitmore-Smith is a leader of courage and action. She has dedicated the last decade of her life to improving urban education by founding the Ptah Academy in St. Louis and attempting to provide additional educational options to children across the state. As an educator, an activist, and a parent, she has much to be proud of.
That said, she is not an appropriate candidate for the State Board of Education.
The State Board is the steward for Missouri's public schools. As such, its members should possess a breadth and depth of experience in public education and/or a background as strong advocates for public schools. Given Ms. Whitmore-Smith's lack of experience as a public school teacher, administrator, or advocate - and the fact that she has spent much of her adult life promoting private educational options - I am concerned about her ability to focus on improving our public schools. At a time when the St. Louis Public Schools are on the verge of losing accreditation and falling under the purview of the State, all members of the State Board must concentrate on the task at hand.
Equally troubling was Ms. Whitmore-Smith's noncommittal response to my question about the relative merits of teaching creation vs. evolution in public school science classes. In order to train a workforce that will help Missouri become a biotechnology hub, our schools must teach modern science and ensure that religious doctrine remains in appropriate venues.
It should be noted, as the co-founder of a group of public charter schools, I have advocated some of the very alternative educational options that Ms. Whitmore-Smith has supported. I neither retract my advocacy nor disparage hers. In fact, I appreciate her energy and her work. While I have not always agreed with Ms. Whitmore-Smith's policy prescriptions, she has been a passionate advocate for her cause and fresh voices like hers should be welcomed.
I have truly appreciated the input of thousands of Missourians while evaluating this nominee. Lamentably, however, some on both sides have succumbed to histrionics and demagoguery. Ms. Whitmore-Smith is not out to eviscerate public education; conversely, voucher opponents are not out to trap poor children in failing schools. And the abysmal outcomes of St. Louis public schools are not solely the result of bureaucratic dysfunction but, more broadly, the consequence of decades of segregation, benign neglect, and middle-class flight.
For the sake of our children and our state's economic future, we must move past petty political bickering to come together and find practical solutions to these problems. That means considering open enrollment policies so that children can choose any public school in a district, lateral certification opportunities for trained scientists, mathematicians, and linguists to ease the shortages of qualified teachers in their subject areas, continuation of St. Louis's voluntary transfer program, and expansion of innovative charter schools [such as the Knowledge is Power (KIPP) model] that provide increased choice within the public school framework while remaining accountable to the State Board.
Finally, I wish Ms. Whitmore-Smith the very best in her future endeavors. I hope we have opportunities to find common ground and work together on some of the above initiatives. And I hope that, in keeping with tradition and the historical mission of the State Board, Governor Blunt's future nominees have more extensive experience in public education.
Governor Matt Blunt has indicated he will not push forward with the Whitmore-Smith nomination without Smith's approval.