JEFFERSON CITY - Voters would have final say in November whether or not to combine the state's education departments into a single over-arching department under a measure cleared by the Senate Thursday.
Following a sluggish session on Wednesday, senators unanimously approved resolutions Thursday to combine the two education departments into one responsible for overseeing kindergarten through the completion of undergraduate education. A single board would also oversee the state's entire public school system.
Senate action had been stalled over arguments as to how much power the new education board should have over higher education institutions. Ultimately, the passage was assured when the version before the Senate effectively made no substantive changes in the current level of independence by the various higher education institutions.
Currently the Department of Higher Education and the Department of Secondary Education exist as separate entities, but proponents of one resolution say combining the two into a Department of Education would not only save the state millions of dollars, but is also practical in today's age.
"Education should no longer be K through 12, it should be K through 16," Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau said. "A high school diploma today is not what a high school diploma was ten years ago."
Since one resolution would dissolve the current Coordinating Board of Higher Education, a separate resolution would create the Board of Education, responsible not only for higher education, but also for developing a consistent department throughout all levels of state education.
As with the existing board, the new board would not take any new powers and will continue to be subject to state law.
After discussion on the size and term limit for the board, the senate decided it would consist of six members appointed by the governor and approved by the senate to serve six year terms.
The first round of board members, however, will be an exception. In order to stagger the appointees, two members will serve a two year term, two more will serve four years, and the remaining two will serve the full six year term.
No more than three members can be from a single political party.
As previously reported, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, said on Wednesday that while she agreed the two boards should be combined, doing so would cause chaos for Missouri's education system. Cunningham did not speak on the issue Thursday.
Sen. Luanne Ridgeway, R-Smithville, offered an amendment which ultimately passed that would increase the oversight the Senate had over the selection process of the board's commissioner.
Since the resolutions would alter the state constitution, they would go on this November's ballot for the approval of voters. If the resolutions pass, they would go into affect July 1, 2011.