Saturday, January 21, 2017

Betsy DeVos and the Blunt connection

After watching the confirmation hearing of President Trump's Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, it was painfully obvious that she knew little or nothing about education.

For decades, the DeVos family has contributed millions to candidates in her efforts to push vouchers and unregulated charter schools, and it should come as no surprise that some of that money has made its way to our own Sen. Roy Blunt, who undoubtedly will vote to confirm DeVos.

Federal Election Commission records show Blunt received $29,300 from the DeVos family for his successful re-election campaign last year. The family contributed $8,800 to Blunt six years earlier.

But Roy Blunt's financial connection to Betsy DeVos runs far deeper than the $38,100 he received during his two campaigns.

In 2004, Betsy DeVos provided the money that enabled Blunt's son, then Secretary of State Matt Blunt, to barely defeat former State Auditor Claire McCaskill for governor.

At the time, DeVos headed the pro-voucher group All Children Matter, which was started by the DeVos family and billionaire John Walton, a member of the family that owns the Wal-Mart empire.

At the time Missouri had campaign finance limits in place, but there was
no limit to the money someone could use to pay for advertising opposing a candidate. During the final weeks of that 2004 gubernatorial campaign, All Children Matter spent $196,252.33 on attack ads against McCaskill, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.

Blunt defeated McCaskill, who had defeated incumbent Gov. Bob Holden in the Democratic primary, by a margin of 51 to 49 percent.

When openings occurred on the State Board of Education, the new governor appointed people who were clearly not friends of public education.

Blunt's first appointment in March 2006 was Debi Demien, Wentzville. Though Demien had spent a short time as a public school teacher, that was in her rear view mirror for years by the time of her appointment to the state board.

Demien was director of marketing for Building God's Way, which built churches and Christian schools.

In 1999,, she wrote a book entitled Stealing America, the National Takeover of the Economy, Education and State Governments, which primarily criticized the school-to-work programs being used in public schools. She was an outspoken critic of Missouri's A+ program, which allows students involved in the program to receive free schooling at Missouri community colleges.

Demien headed a group called Restoring America's Way which fought against the separation of church and state. Restoring America's website at that time prominently featured an article on "the sin of sending kids to public schools."

On October 26, 2006, Blunt appointed Donayle Whitmore-Smith, 38, St. Louis to the board. Whitmore-Smith was head of the pro-voucher group Coalition for School Choice, a fact that Blunt failed to mention in his news release announcing her appointment.

Whitmore-Smith, the news release noted, was the founder of Ptah Academy of Arts and Science. That and her position with Coalition for School Choice were the only connections she had with education, but as impressive as her academy credential sounded, the reality was not quite as convincing.

An October 5, 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article described a day at the academy:

"The ribbons of incense and the children who meditate beneath them at the start of each school day leave no doubt that the Ptah Academy of Arts and Sciences isn't your typical school."

The academy is named after an ancient Egyptian god and "includes of elements of ancient spiritualism in its instruction," according to the Post-Dispatch article, which continues, "The school is not religious, Whitmore said, but it does encourage children to tap in to their 'spiritual energy.' 

"The article indicated the school featured "yoga, organic meals, tai chi and daily 'inner studies' or sessions of meditation" in its curriculum.

In a February 2005 article in the pro-voucher publication School Reform News, Ms. Whitmore-Smith said that she had attended private schools until high school and her experience at a public school was "hell." Ms. Whitmore-Smith said, "Academically, it just couldn't match what I'd been getting (in private schools)."

Nevertheless, Blunt pushed Whitmore-Smith for the position, claiming she was a supporter of public schools.

Governor Blunt's chief of staff Ed Martin told the Post-Dispatch that any thought that Ms. Whitmore-Smith would be anti-public education was ridiculous:

"If we thought that, she wouldn't be on the state board of education, because the governor is committed to public education," Martin said.

Before becoming Blunt's chief of staff, Martin worked for Betsy DeVos, as the attorney for All Children Matter.

Eventually, Whitmore-Smith was withdrawn from consideration, but that did not stop Blunt from attempting to stack the board with pro-voucher members.

On December 14, 2006, Blunt appointed Rev. Stan Archie, a voucher proponent and private school administrator,

If Blunt had opted to run for a second term and been elected, it was likely the entire board would have been filled with voucher supporters and it would have all been made possible by the financial support of Betsy DeVos.

Now the DeVos blueprint for destroying public education can be put into effect for the entire nation, with the complete and wholehearted support of Senator Roy Blunt.

Sounds from the St. Louis women's march

More than 1,500 attend Mid-Missouri Solidarity March and Rally in Columbia

Thousands show for Kansas City Women's March

Ron Richard: Senate will debate right to work, paycheck protection this week

(From Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin)

State lawmakers gathered in the House chamber Tuesday evening for the governor’s first State of the State address. The governor spoke for about 40 minutes, during which time he laid out his legislative priorities for 2017. At the top — enacting meaningful tort and labor reform and creating stable, well-paying jobs for our citizens. I am pleased to say both chambers are already hard at work advancing legislation that complements the governor’s agenda.

The Senate Committee on General Laws voted to send two labor reform bills to the floor for debate: Senate Bill 19 will make Missouri the next Right to Work state, while Senate Bill 21 will enact Paycheck Protection. The House has moved even faster on Right to Work; earlier today, it overwhelming passed House Bill 91, which is identical to the Senate version. While Missouri’s future status as a Right to Work state is not yet a done deal, it certainly looks more promising than it has in a long time, and I hope to see a bill on the governor’s desk very soon.

In addition to Right to Work, the governor also called for an end to the discriminatory and unfair practices of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). Missouri taxpayers deserve the best product for the best cost, but PLAs drive up the cost of construction by effectively excluding nonunion contractors and their skilled employees from building projects paid for by their own community’s tax dollars. Oftentimes, PLAs place unreasonable terms and conditions to limit fair competition. They are not equitable to all contractors, and they are a detriment to the free market. If signed into law, Senate Bill 182 would prohibit PLAs.

Of course, labor reform is just one part of the equation when it comes to promoting job growth and economic development. We also need to address our legal climate. During his speech, the governor talked about the need for serious tort reform, stating that “our judicial system is broken, and the trial lawyers have broken it…” On Tuesday, I presented Senate Bill 5 to the Committee on Government Reform. This legislation modifies several provisions relating to tort actions, such as unlawful merchandising practices, class actions, venue and products liability.

At its core, SB 5 is about making it more difficult for trial attorneys to bring forth frivolous lawsuits, which force Missouri businesses to waste valuable time and money defending meritless claims. Those costs eventually get passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices. By passing substantive tort reform, we can finally shed Missouri’s ranking as the “No. 1 judicial hellhole” in the country and become a state that is truly open for business.

As I have previously stated, our new governor’s determination to transform the way Missouri does business is a refreshing change after eight years of failed economic policies and stagnant job growth. This truly is a new era in Missouri. I support the governor’s proposals, and I look forward to working with his administration as we build a better, stronger Missouri.

Agenda posted for Tuesday Joplin R-8 Board of Education meeting

The Joplin R-8 Board of Education will meet 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Memorial Education Center. The meeting will be preceded by a closed session at 6 p.m. to discuss legal action, real estate, personnel issues, and preparation for negotiations with employee groups.

The agenda for the regular session is printed below:

A. Call to Order

1. Roll Call

B. Pledge of Allegiance
C. Approval of Agenda - Action

D. Reports

1. Board President's Report

a. Celebrations - Info. (Jeff Koch)

b. BOE Policy Committee Update - Info. (L. Banwart & J. Martucci)

c. BOE Data Analysis Committee Update - Info. (J. Koch, S. Dermott & L. Musser)

d. BOE Finance, Salary, and Benefits Committee - Info. (Dr. Fort & J. Martucci)

e. BOE Safety Committee - Info. (Dr. Fort & C. Sloan)

2. Superintendent's Data Report

a. School Board Recognition - Info. (Dr. Ridder)

b. Health and Dental Care Insurance Reports - Info. (Paul Barr)

c. Financial Statements - Info. (Paul Barr)

d. New Superintendent Orientation - Info. (Dr. Ridder)

E. Public Comments Regarding Agenda Items 

F. Consent Agenda - Action

1. Minutes - Action (Pat Waldo)

2. Personnel Recommendations - Action (Dr. Lankford)

3. Policy Update Second Reading - Action (Dr. Ridder)

a. Policy JGGA: Seclusion, Isolation and Restraint

4. Local Tax Effort (LTE) Billbacks - Action (Sandra Cantwell)

5. Joplin Early Childhood (JEC) Architect Contract Amendment for Reimbursable Expenses - Action (Dr. Sachetta)

G. Regular Agenda

1. Accounts Payable - Action (Paul Barr)

2. Policy Update First Reading - Action (Dr. Ridder)

a. Policy BCA: Board Organizational Meeting - Action

b. Policy BCB: Board Officers - Action

c. Policy BCCA: MSBA Delegate and Alternate - Action

d. Policy BDDH: Public Participation at Board Meetings - Action

e. Policy EBAB: Hazardous Materials - Action

f. Policy EBAC: Integrated Pest Management - Action

g. Policy JHCB: Immunization of Students - Action

h. JHG: Reporting and Investigating Child Abuse/Neglect - Action

3. FTC - Economic Development Administration (EDA) Grant for Diesel Mechanics Program - Action (Dr. Ridder )

4. Elementary Chromebooks - Action (Dr. Sachetta)

5. Plus/Delta - Info. (Dr. Ridder)

a. Plus: What did we do well

b. Delta: Opportunities for Improvement

H. Adjourn

Judge restores Mercy McCune-Brooks administrator's driving privileges

Citing errors made by a Joplin police officer during a traffic stop, Judge Charles Curless restored the driving privileges of Mercy McCune-Brooks Hospital Administrator Scott Watson.

Watson, who is a former Newton County prosecuting attorney, had his driving privileges suspended after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated 1:15 a.m. July 2 at the 9 mile marker on eastbound I-44.

In his ruling, Curless noted several errors committed by the police officer during the stop, which was recorded on video.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test given to the petitioner was not conducted in accordance with NHTSA guidelines in that the petitioner was facing oncoming traffic on Interstate 44 at night, therefor subjecting the petitioner to optokinetic nystagmus, which renders the test void and unreliable.

Petitioner was marked on the Alcohol Influence Report as failed on the walk-and-turn test in part for raising his hands above six inches for balance, when in fact the review of the video shows that petitioner did not raise his hands as indicated.

Petitioner was not asked about his physical limitations or disabilities until after the walk-and-turn and one-leg-stand tests were administered. Petitioner's physical limitations render those tests unreliable under NHTSA guidelines.

The PBT administered to petitioner was given without sufficient time lapse to allow for the dissipation of residual mouth alcohol, rendering the PBT results void.

Based on the previously outlined deficiencies in the Standard Field Sobriety Tests and PBT, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that petitioner was operating the vehicle in an intoxicated condition.

Watson told the Carthage Press the stop occurred after he and his wife left Turtleheads after a family karaoke night after midnight. Watson said he had two drinks between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Watson said he submitted to four field sobriety tests, which the officer said he failed. He said the officer put him in handcuffs in the back of the patrol car before asking if he would take the Breathalyzer test, which he refused.

"People say, why didn't you take the test?" Watson said. "Here's the answer, I knew from the first examination that this was an officer who, I'm not going to say was not trained, but he'd already made at least two significant errors. Not only that, I'm already in handcuffs. If I would have taken the test and blown a .02, is he going to unarrest me? No, I don't think so."

The Newton County Prosecuting Attorney's office did not file DWI charges against Watson after the arrest.

Also from the Press article:

Watson said the incident was a learning experience, and he was heartened to see how his friends and co-workers stuck by him.

"Do I wish it had never happened?" he said. "Yeah. But I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. It's not against the law to stay out until 12:15 a.m. I had the full support of my employer and they've been good to me. On the other hand, I don't have any animus whatsoever toward the officer. Everybody makes mistakes, I make mistakes every day, so when a guy makes a mistake, you have to cut him a break. It is what it is."