Archives for category: Missouri

Alexandra Petri is a humorist who writes for the Washington Post. Here she puts tongue in cheek to praise the Missouri Legislature’s bold stance on its female dress code.

She writes:

On Wednesday, the Republican-dominated Missouri House of Representatives decided to spend its one wild and precious legislative life focusing, laser-like, on the issues that matter most to the people of the state: the dress code for female legislators. All I can say is: Thank goodness!

The good people of the state of Missouri had been cowering for months in a state of panic, knowing that unless prompt, legislative action was taken on the very first day of the new session, some Missourian lawgiver might, without any warning, see a woman’s shoulder. I almost do not want to type it! I am sorry that you had to read the word, which may have forced you to picture one in your mind and derailed your legislative business for the month. Sh***der. That is better. I have already done too much harm.

Imagine the shock and horror of seeing a shoulder that belonged to a woman who was using it at the time! The mind reels. The jaw drops to the floor. I can think of nothing less respectful. A shoulder, covered not with a blazer, but with some sort of unstructured wrap — unthinkable! An abomination in the eyes of the law, and of all right-thinking citizens!

The new rule states that “proper attire for women shall be business attire, including jackets worn with dresses, skirts, or slacks, and dress shoes or boots.” Sweaters, formerly permitted, are right out! Cardigans were a subject of debate on the floor — could one possibly be adequate to do the duty of a blazer? After all, this is the Missouri legislature, not a Taylor Swift album! They had to think of the consequences.

I once saw a woman’s shoulder — in fact, two shoulders — not covered by a blazer. She was in a dress, supplemented by a drape of some kind, but that, as the legislators wisely noted in their statute, was not enough. It was a statue, on the top of the United States Capitol; I do not know what sick, disrespectful pervert put it there, but I am still recovering from the ordeal.

I thank the gods that I am not a male legislator (the ones most devastatingly affected by such sights). I read a story that one saw the Venus de Milo by mistake (he heard it was art) and is still in a hospital, groaning in agony.

We all know how many male legislators have suffered this fate, thanks to a previous dress code that did not pause for a moment to consider them as people. Those legions of men glimpsed a wrap, sliding precipitously down a human shoulder in the Missouri Capitol, and have had to give up public life entirely to spend their days screaming and staring at the wall.

Sometimes, at night, I still hear them, howling. Their lives, as they know them, have ended. So many lives, taken completely out of their owners’ hands and made to serve the whims of a legislature that didn’t think it was a big deal to allow shawls and sweaters, that didn’t take into account the impact on people’s lives of their careless words.

The people of Missouri sat there last year in the midst of major flash floods worrying: “Are my legislators going to protect their eyes from sh***ders? They had better focus on that,” they thought, “rather than the infrastructure. I know it is also important to try to make it more difficult to change the state constitution by ballot initiative, since the voice of the people might be heard, and that could be very awkward. But first! First, they must look to swaddling all those hideous, loathsome appendages and hiding them from view! Ugh, ugh!”

You would think that people so horrified by the sight of an innocent shoulder would not want to, voluntarily, delve any deeper into other people’s bodies and enact cruel, dehumanizing restrictions about their medical choices, but — you would be wrong.

Jess Piper lives in rural Missouri. She and her husband are farmers with five children. She taught American literature in the local public school. She describes herself as a “woke” progressive. When she added the history of slavery and African American literature to her classes, she said, none of her students (all white) felt embarrassed or uncomfortable. They identified with the abolitionists, not the slaveholders.

She ran for office when she realized that there were no Democrats, and she lost. But she wasn’t discouraged.

I am not a podcast person but I listened to Jess with close attention. On Twitter, she is @piper4Missouri.

You will enjoy listening to her podcast. She has a great voice and a great message.

When Congress debated whether to pass a statute protecting gay marriage, Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler tearfully pleaded with her colleagues in the House of Representatives to vote against it. Every Democrat and 39 Republicans voted for it, and Rep. Hartzler was distraught.

Her nephew, Andrew Hartzler, disagreed with her vote. He is gay. He grew up in a strict conservative household. He told his parents he was gay when he was 14, and they sent him to conversion therapy. When he finished high school, his parents insisted that he attend Oral Roberts University, thinking that he would not encounter any gay students. They were wrong. More conversion therapy.

He was interviewed on MSNBC, CNN, and other news outlets. Watch him tell his story.

Alan J. Singer writes about Missouri’s bid to be the state with the most censorship in schools and libraries.

He writes:

The State of Missouri may have to change its nickname from “Show-Me-State” to “It’s against the law to show me!” According to a report from PEN America, in response to a new state law, this fall Missouri schools removed almost 300 books from library…

The State of Missouri may have to change its nickname from “Show-Me-State” to “It’s against the law to show me!”

According to a report from PEN America, in response to a new state law, this fall Missouri schools removed almost 300 books from library shelves. They include Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus about the Holocaust,graphic novels based on George Orwell’s 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Bible, and the Gettysburg Address, art history books with naked subjects, and comic books about Batman and X-Men.Leviticus in the Old Testament has a lot of rules about sex and apparently the New Testament starts with too many “begats.” The new law establishes criminal penalties for exposing students to “explicit sexual material.” More than half of the books are about or written by LGBTQ+ people or people of color.

PEN America calls the Missouri book banning a “grave threat to the freedom to read.” It is the latest in a wave of “mass removals of books, new legislative proposals targeting publishers, and the passage of restrictive school district policies.” Nearly 100 books were recently pulled from Beaufort, South Carolina school libraries, a proposed Texas law would require publishers to create a rating system for school library books, and a number of states and school districts are afraid of any reference to gender fluidity.

Senate Bill 775, which went into effect in August 2022 was supposed to address the rights of survivors of sexual assault. However, an amendment pasted into the bill classified “providing explicit sexual material to a student” as a class A misdemeanor and subjects “any person affiliated with a school in an official capacity” to arrest. In response, at least 11 school districts starting purging books from the school library.

A spokesperson for a district that banned fourteen books was quoted in the St. Louis Dispatch. “The unfortunate reality of Senate Bill 775 is that, now in effect, it includes criminal penalties for individual educators. We are not willing to risk those potential consequences and will err on the side of caution on behalf of the individuals who serve our students.”

PEN America has posted an online petition addressed toMissouri School Boards and Districts. You can add your name at this link. A number of prominent authors have signed the letter. They include Laurie Halse Anderson, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Roxane Gay, Lois Lowry, and Art Spiegelman.

Please open the link to read the PEN petition and add your name.

 

On October 24, a 19-year-old entered the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis with an AR-15 style weapon and 600 rounds of ammunition. He killed a 15-year-old girl and a 61-year-old teacher. Many students were injured. The police arrived within minutes and killed the shooter, Orlando Harris. Orlando had graduated from the school last year.

ABC News in St. Louis reported:

Harris, who had no criminal history, left a handwritten document in his car speaking about his desire to “conduct this school shooting,” St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack said at a news conference Tuesday.

Sack said Harris wrote: “I don’t have any friends, I don’t have any family, I’ve never had a girlfriend, I’ve never had a social life.” Sack said Harris called himself an “isolated loner,” which was [the police chief said] a “perfect storm for a mass shooter.”

Josie Johnston knew Orlando Harris when he was in middle school. He wasn’t always a monster, she writes. He was a sweet kid. She wonders if there was anything she could have done to save him. She wonders why it was so easy for such a troubled young man to buy a deadly weapon.

How can the Republican Party claim to be opposed to crime when they are making it easy for troubled people of all ages to buy weapons of death?

Josie Johnston writes:

After Monday’s tragic events, I know it’s hard for some people to imagine, but when I met Orlando on his very first day of sixth grade, he was a super sweet boy who wanted to please people. What factors led to his transformation?

He was a great drummer. He loved the drumline, and his face lit up when he played. Yes, he was quiet, but he was also shy. He didn’t have many friends, but he had a couple of good friends in middle school. I do know that as he got older he was bullied and that continued into his high school career.

I am not saying that is what made him act out, but I know it was a factor. I am sure there is so much more that we will never fully understand that contributed to Orlando feeling like he had no other option than to do what he did. According to the police reports, he tried to commit suicide multiple times. He must have been hurting so badly and he clearly felt as if he had no one.

In a few short years, I went from teaching middle school to high school. There was the coronavirus, virtual teaching, and then moving from one building to another. When Collegiate School of Medicine & Bioscience moved into the same building as Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, I had the pleasure of seeing many of my former middle school students at different events shared by both schools. These were always happy meetings, and I was always on the lookout for more of my former middle school babies. I never imagined the scenario of events that happened on Oct. 24 would occur.

Even though I am a logical person, when I replay that morning in my mind, I keep thinking: What if, when Orlando was my student, I had said just one more kind word to him? What if I had asked him how he was doing one more time? What if I had checked on him more in seventh and eighth grade? What if I had found out he was down the hall from me attending CVPA and made a point to go talk to him? What if, what if, what if?

Could all of this have been avoided if someone like me had just done one nicer thing or reached out one more time? I won’t ever get the answer to those questions because the only person who could tell me is gone.

My heart is breaking for Orlando’s mom. I only met her once at parent-teacher conferences, and I am sure she doesn’t remember me, but I remember she wanted the very best for her son. From the reports, it sounds like she did everything she could think of to help Orlando and, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to save him.

She tried to do the right thing by asking the police to take his gun away. But because of Missouri’s current laws, police felt they couldn’t. That gun would be used a few short weeks later to change my life and the life of my students forever.

I do not blame Orlando. I do not blame his mom. I do not blame the police. I blame those making the laws that think it okay for a 19-year-old to own an AR-15-style rifle and a trove of 30-clip magazines. Please come tell my students, who had to see the lifeless body of an innocent teenage girl lying on the ground covered in blood as they fled the school building fearing for their lives, why anyone should own a weapon that can only be used to kill people.

And before anyone says I don’t know anything about guns, I grew up hunting. I grew up on a farm. I grew up respecting guns. They were a daily part of my life. But I never needed an AR-15 to kill a deer, a duck, a goose or a turkey. I do believe in a person’s right to own a gun, but if you aren’t a police officer or in the military, you have no reason to own an assault rifle at age 19.

Missouri needs a red-flag law, otherwise known as an “extreme-risk protection order” law. It prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. It would provide safeguards and procedures to ensure that no firearm is removed without due process while helping to prevent tragedies like the school shooting that happened here in St. Louis.

Fixing gun laws won’t solve everything. It wouldn’t give back the lives of those lost on Oct. 24. It wouldn’t take away the trauma my colleagues, my students or I will have to live with for the rest of our lives. But it might prevent anyone else from experiencing these same events. It might prevent another teenager or teacher from dying. And that alone is worth changing the laws.

Do you think the Missouri legislature will change the law? Do you think they will act to prevent future shootings?

Political battles over book are heating up in Missouri. This seems to be the right time to ban books like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Slaughterhouse Five. Will Fahrenheit 451 be banned too? Why is it missing?

The Missouri law on banning books was enacted in August. Missouri law 775 sets the guidelines, starting on page 51. The law prohibits books with visual representations of sexual activity a.k.a. pornography. It is a very specific definition.

Legislators visual representations only (not “art” or “anthropological”). They lost the CRT battle and needed something like this in law. They avoided the battle over the written word and content, just pictures. Graphic novels took the hit. Teachers and any school adult can be charged for distributing a censored book.

The conservative strategy is get the door open for book banning and then it will swing wide open to written word and content this year.

Below are four articles – St. Louis Post Dispatch (with lists) and KC Star

Of course, there were no guidelines from the State.

Sept 27 https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/kirkwood-parents-speak-out-against-book-bans/article_2c3dc6bd-2dd2-58a9-9d4c-30d48ec81e1a.html

KIRKWOOD — About 15 parents and students spoke out Monday against the Kirkwood School District’s recent book bans, including a comic book adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984,” the cautionary tale about government mind control.

At least 114 book bans have been enacted in schools across St. Louis this fall in response to a new state law prohibiting “explicit sexual material” — defined as any visual depiction of sex acts or genitalia, with exceptions for artistic or scientific significance — provided to students in public or private schools.

Sept 25    https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/suburban-school-districts-in-st-louis-area-more-likely-to-ban-books-under-new-law/article_db89ae4d-f559-56e7-929a-8b1af4c374d5.html#tracking-source=in-article   

‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’: KC area schools now ban these books and more BY SARAH RITTER UPDATED OCTOBER 03, 2022 9:39 AM

https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/education/article266556371.html#storylink=cpy

ST. LOUIS — The 97 books banned in schools across St. Louis this fall cover topics like anatomy, photography and the Holocaust. There are books that are also popular TV series, including “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Walking Dead” and “Watchmen.”

And as life imitates art, Kirkwood School District banned a comic book adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984,” the cautionary tale about government mind control.

Aug 25  https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/blythe-bernhard-on-the-new-state-law-impacting-school-librarians-inside-the-post-dispatch/article_5e824824-818a-5706-96fd-9306231e7664.html#tracking-source=in-article

JEFFERSON CITY — With a new crop of hard-right Republicans expected to join the Missouri Senate, some Democrats are worried that the upper chamber’s priorities will swing more to the right in the next legislative session.

Conservative wish list items such as bans on transgender student athletes and legislation that targets school curriculum have failed to pass in previous years amid infighting among Republicans. But Senate Democrats say those policies could have enough momentum in the coming years with more hard-right members joining the upper chamber.

For months now, a handful of books dealing with LGBTQ themes have been targeted by Kansas City area conservative parent groups and politicians.

Conservative groups have demanded the removal of books on LGBTQ themes from public school libraries, but the censorship is expanding to other titles that someone finds objectionable. The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, has no LGBTQ content. It’s about a dystopian society in which women have no rights. But it’s being pulled from library shelves, and librarians are facing stiff fines if they defy the law.

But facing a new Missouri law, some schools have now removed a much wider array of books from library shelves, including “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Watchmen” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The law, which bans sexually explicit material from schools and went into effect in late August, is tucked into a larger bill addressing sexual assault survivors’ rights. Librarians or other school employees who violate the law could be charged with a misdemeanor, risking up to a year in jail or a $2,000 fine.

In response, several school libraries have pulled at least 20 book titles in districts on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metro, according to reports provided to The Star through open records requests.

The legislation specifically prohibits images in school materials that could be considered sexually explicit, such as depictions of genitals or sex acts. As a result, most of the banned books are graphic novels. The law does provide some exceptions, such as for works of art or science textbooks.

Proponents argue the legislation will protect children from inappropriate content and indoctrination. “In schools all across the country, we’ve seen this disgusting and inappropriate content making its way into our classrooms,” state Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said in a statement after the legislation passed. “Instead of recognizing this as the threat it is, some schools are actually fighting parents to protect this filth. The last place our children should be seeing pornography is in our schools.”

But others warn that such bans violate students’ First Amendment rights and mainly target books that feature LGBTQ relationships, people of color and diverse viewpoints.

“You don’t see people trying to ban any books that are on the far conservative end. So I think at this point, what we’re seeing is a kind of protracted political strategy,” said Joe Kohlburn, chair of the Missouri Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. “It feels very targeted to folks who identify as LGBTQ, or (people of color) or women. If you see your library is removing ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ that tells you something very specific. And I don’t think that’s an accident.”

Before the bill’s passage, conservative politicians, action committees and parent groups in the Kansas City metro spearheaded challenges to school library books, mostly featuring racially diverse or LGBTQ characters. It’s a trend seen across the country, with the American Library Association reporting that the number of attempts to ban or restrict books this year is on track to exceed last year’s total, which was the highest in decades.

Librarians have raised concerns over harassment, with some questioning whether to stay in their jobs. Tom Bastian, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, called the book challenges an attempt to “whitewash viewpoints and perspectives of historically marginalized communities.”

Read more at: https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/education/article266556371.html#storylink=cpy

Gloria Nolan is a parent of children enrolled in St. Louis public schools. She recently joined the board of the Network for Public Education.

She wrote the following article, which was published in the St.Louis Post-Dispatch.

She begins:

For about three years I worked for an organization that was invested in growing the charter school movement locally and around the country. Thankfully, I moved on, and now I fully support charter school reform, such as the reforms included in the new regulations for the federal charter school program proposed by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Here is why.

I fully began to realize what I was a part of during lunch when I had a chance to talk to the chief executive of The Opportunity Trust, Eric Scroggins. I rattled off a list of ideas I had for turning the public schools in the St. Louis district around.

That wouldn’t work, he responded. He said the objective was to burn the system down.

For Opportunity Trust and so-called reform movements like it, the key to school improvement is to replace public schools with charter schools, or public schools that act like charter schools. That is when I lost all faith in what charter proponents were selling.

And where do these charter schools go to get start-up and expansion funds? The federal Charter School Program…

The same special interest groups that promote organizations like The Opportunity Trust are fighting the very reasonable rules that [Secretary Miguel] Cardona has proposed to help clean up the mess. With a campaign of misinformation, the charter lobby led by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools promotes the extreme right’s support for stopping the proposed regulations.

As a Black woman, I find it hard to believe any news outlet that promotes fearmongering about critical race theory and features an op-ed that criticizes the regulations because their frequent use of the words “diversity” and “racial” has the best interests of my children at heart…

The one regulation that the charter lobby objects to the most is the requirement to do an impact analysis to see if the school is needed or wanted by the community. Given that more than 40% of charter schools close within their first 10 years, an impact sounds like common sense to me. This particular regulation is also in line with the implementation of the City-Wide Planning Committee and its call for a moratorium on the opening of new schools. The guidelines here locally were met with strong opposition from The Opportunity Trust and its supporters.

I have been on the inside of the reform/charter school movement. Its ultimate objective is to destroy our public school system by replacing it with a system of charter and voucher schools. These new regulations will not stop that. I wish they were stronger. But at the very least they could help ensure that our federal tax dollars will be given to charter schools that have better intentions than many of the schools that are receiving Charter School Program grants now.

Billionaire Reed Hastings claims to be a Democrat, but he loves charter schools and despises public schools. In his efforts to promote privatization, he has funded some extremist Republicans. In Missouri, he funded the Republicans intent on eliminating abortion services for women, while giving a pittance to Democrats in the Missouri legislature..

In Indiana, Reed Hastings is the sugar daddy of a very rightwing Republican Party that wants to expand charters and vouchers. Hastings is a man without principle. He doesn’t care about evidence. He doesn’t care about charter financial scandals. He wants to win, and he will fund anti-abortion zealots in Missouri and rightwing extremists in Indiana, so long as it undermines public schools.

Steve Hinnefeld writes in his Indiana blog:

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has given another $700,000 to a pro-charter-school Indiana PAC, which has funneled a big chunk of the money to supporting Republican legislative candidates.

The PAC – called, without apparent irony, Hoosiers for Great Public Schools – reported only one contribution in its 2022 pre-primary campaign finance report, covering Jan. 1 to April 8: the one from Hastings, a California resident with a net worth estimated between $4 billion and $6 billion.

Hoosiers for Great Public Schools then gave $100,000 to another PAC, Hoosiers for Quality Education, which favors school choice in all its forms, including private school vouchers. Hoosiers for Quality Education has made over $600,000 in contributions this year, all to Republicans. Most has gone to GOP House candidates who are favored by caucus leaders and are in contested primaries.

Hoosiers for Quality Education, with ties to Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education in the Trump administration, didn’t just get money from Hoosiers for Great Public Schools. It got $425,000 this year from Walmart heir Jim Walton, along with several smaller donations.

Hastings also gave Hoosiers for Great Public Schools $700,000 in 2020. It also got $200,000 that year from John Arnold, a Texas billionaire. The group has never received a penny from an actual Hoosier.

But it does have a Hoosier connection. Bart Peterson, who heads the operation, was mayor of Indianapolis from 2000 to 2008. He was a Democrat then. I don’t know what he considers himself now, but he has become a primary source of out-of-state cash for Indiana Republicans.

Peterson told me in 2020 that he was “an unabashed supporter of charter schools” and was making the contributions to improve funding for the schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. (His day job is president and CEO of Christel House International, which operates charter schools in Indianapolis and schools for underprivileged children around the world).

Whatever the motivation, the campaign contributions helped bolster the Republican supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly. In the 2022 legislative session, that supermajority: 1) repealed the law requiring Hoosiers to have a permit to carry a handgun; 2) made it much more difficult for poor people to be released from jail on bail; and 3) stoked phony outrage over schools teaching “critical race theory.”

Reed Hastings and Betsy DeVos. Hastings, funder of the anti-abortion crusade. Hastings, funder of the phony war against honest teaching about racism (aka “critical race theory.”)

Shameful.

I have always been puzzled by the indifference of state and federal legislators to widespread failure and fraud in the charter sector. The same mystery shrouds the decisions of the billionaires who keep pouring new money into new charters. No matter how many of the charters fail and close their doors, no matter how many of their founders are convicted of embezzlement or padding enrollment, no matter how many are in the state’s list of low-performing schools, the money keeps flowing.

The obvious reason that politicians support charters is because hedge funds and very wealthy donors make sizable campaign contributions. In New York, both Governor Kathy Hochul and NYC Mayor Eric Adams received millions in campaign donations from the charter boosters. We know why free-market zealots like Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch ignore the evidence: They want to privatize education. Why the Wall Street crowd continues to fund failure is a mystery.

A friend in Missouri sent me the previous post about a charter school that was taking in public money despite low academic performance. I asked him why the legislature wanted more charter schools, instead of supporting public schools. It wasn’t rational, I said.

He replied, you have to understand the Missouri legislature, and he sent me the following article. It was written by Stacey Newman, who served in the Missouri legislature for nine years. The picture she paints conjures up thoughts of Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken and Will Rogers. It’s a description of an institution where chaos, dysfunction, and drunkenness are par for the course.

Newman wrote that “dysfunction” was the legislature’s middle name.

As do most voters, I expect legislators to be serious when they take their oath of office. I want to trust they will treat their offices with reverence instead of middle school immaturity — I really do. My first late-night session as a freshman involved debate over a pornography bill. Arguments proceeded way past midnight as I was introduced to #molegafterdark. Coffee cups are allowed on House chamber desks, yet during evening sessions, many of those cups contain alcohol. I was appalled at the drunken debate, remembering how hard I campaigned just to be sitting at one of those desks. Surrounding us were the words carved at the very top of the House chamber: “Liberty, Justice, Law, Progress, Truth, Knowledge, Honor.” Yeah, right.

Hijinks abound every session — particularly as tempers flare between the Republican-controlled state House and Senate. It is routine for both chambers to be at odds as constitutional deadlines loom and members are often campaigning against each other for higher office. Legislators are permitted to carry concealed guns in the Capitol (really) and many pat their pants pockets during high stress debates, reminding everyone who has firepower. One year, I witnessed a screaming near-fistfight of legislators behind my seat as security rushed to intervene. On another late night, I prepared to hide under my desk as an armed inebriated state senator paced our side gallery in intimidation during a contentious House vote on her bill…

Yet we keep hoping for serious people to take over and heed the state motto, “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” It doesn’t say anything about hijinks. There is plenty to do: Fund public schools instead of banning history and attacking teachers; provide access to health care to those who desperately need it and allocate federal relief education dollars, for starters. Accept that masks are not the enemy during a pandemic and that vaccinations, which most elected officials in Jefferson City have received, are lifesaving. Stop with the anti-science hooey left over from the 1692 Salem witch trials. Stop pretending you are aggrieved and, for once, leave your racism and hatred of transgender kids buried at home.

Read more at: https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/readers-opinion/guest-commentary/article258850773.html#storylink=cpy

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a front-page story about the financial shenanigans associated with a charter school founded by two TFA teachers (one of whom was the son of the former mayor). The school has a large number of uncertified teachers and an uncertified high school principal and boasts of its staff’s lack of credentials. Its teachers have a high attrition rate. And its academic performance is mediocre. The school handbook says that staff must keep all financial records confidential. Nonetheless, the school Hoovers up millions of taxpayer dollars from local, state and federal governments and claims it wants to “proselytize” about its “method.” Whether they mean to spread their “method” of sucking up public funds or producing unimpressive academic results is not clear.

Despite stories like this one, the Republican-led legislature wants to authorize more charters.

ST. LOUIS — The sponsor of Kairos Academies, a charter school in the Marine Villa neighborhood, has raised red flags over the school’s financial and leadership practices involving a shadow group that employs nearly two-thirds of the staff.

The school’s founders created Kairos Academies Vanguard for “charitable and educational purposes” before the school opened three years ago, according to records with the Missouri Secretary of State. The nonprofit has since grown to employ 36 staff members out of 56 who work at the school, including 10 teachers and all administrators.

Kairos has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to Vanguard for bookkeeping, human resources, student recruitment, special education and other services, all without a contract. While Vanguard staff members work full time at Kairos, are listed in the school directory and share a staff handbook, school leaders say they are exempt from state laws requiring the release of financial information and participation in an educators’ pension fund.

Vanguard qualifies as a quasi-governmental body subject to Missouri Sunshine Law because its primary purpose is to contract with a taxpayer-funded school, said St. Louis lawyer Elad Gross.

“Schemes like this one to spin off a nonprofit organization are trying to do what a lot of corporations do,” Gross said. “Folks are using those same Wall Street-type practices to avoid liability and public transparency.”

In a “letter of concern” sent this month, the Missouri Charter Public School Commission that sponsors Kairos outlined a 13-point correction plan for the school to complete by March 31. The plan calls for an approved contract with Vanguard, separate audits of the school and the nonprofit, and legal oversight and training on open records laws.

Kairos violated Missouri regulations by not following policies regarding its relationship with Vanguard including approval from its sponsor, according to Robbyn Wahby, the charter school commission’s executive director.

“These requirements exist to ensure that public funds for the education of Missouri students are managed transparently and appropriately,” Wahby wrote in the Feb. 4 letter.

After receiving Wahby’s letter, Kairos set up a mailbox for Vanguard at a coworking space across the street from the school on south Jefferson Avenue. The Kairos board held a special meeting Wednesday to approve a temporary contract through March that pays Vanguard $282,480 per month. Clayton lawyer Hugh Eastwood serves as president of the board of both organizations.

The charter commission “is demanding that the school have a detailed contract with Vanguard so that the commission and taxpayers will know how public funds are used” by the March 31 deadline, Wahby said. “We are pleased that Kairos Academies’ board agrees with our findings and is working to put in place the remedies we are requiring of them.”

$3.3 million

Kairos Academies opened in fall of 2019 led by CEO Gavin Schiffres and chief strategy officer Jack Krewson, son of then-mayor Lyda Krewson. The founders were both 25 at the time and graduates of the two-year Teach for America program. The education reform group Opportunity Trust contributed more than $300,000 in startup costs and continues to provide annual grants.

Kairos now enrolls about 400 students in fifth through eighth grades and will start a high school with ninth graders in the fall. Last spring, 35% of students tested proficient in English and 33% in math on state standardized tests. Only eight current staff members, including Krewson and Schiffres, were with the school when it opened in fall of 2019, according to the school directory.

Schiffres said Vanguard was formed with the “idea of creating a vehicle where we could take what we learned and potentially bring it to other regions, take the Kairos method and proselytize that.”

Charter schools are publicly funded and independently operated. Under Missouri law, charter school employees are required to participate in the Public School Retirement System of the City of St. Louis. Kairos pays 15% of the salaries of 20 teachers into the retirement fund, according to an audit of fiscal year 2021 by St. Louis accounting firm KEB.

The school’s administrators, plus Spanish, art and special education teachers, the principal and head of athletics and secretarial staff are considered contractors who are exempt from the fund. Those 36 employees can receive up to a 3% match for a separate retirement fund, according to the Kairos staff handbook.

The audit of Kairos included Vanguard as an affiliate because “the entities are commonly managed.” It shows the two organizations combined received $3.3 million in local, state and federal tax revenue in fiscal 2021.

No certification

A review of state and school records shows other examples of Kairos operating like a private organization:

• Eight teachers including three English teachers have no Missouri teaching certificates. An additional seven have substitute certificates, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Nilesh Patel, who is slated to lead Kairos’ high school this fall, has no state certification. The Kairos community handbook reads, “Please assume that your child’s teachers are not certified to teach in their assigned grade level or subject. Although most are, Kairos takes cues from the best private schools around the country and recruits talent with diverse, real-world experience.”

• Like traditional public schools, charter schools are not allowed to discriminate in admissions. The Kairos staff handbook suggests that family income can play a role. “Enrolling another low-income student will make it harder to get the high academic results my team is striving for … disadvantaged students tend to come in below grade level,” the handbook describes as a hypothetical admissions decision. “On the other hand, our Finance Team understands the economic value associated with any student: they’re ‘customers’ the state pays us to educate.”

• Kairos received $163,000 in 2020 through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The school also anticipates receiving about $2 million in coronavirus relief for public schools from the U.S. Department of Education, according to its records.

• The Kairos handbook says staff must keep financial information, vendor contracts and curriculum confidential.

Do it the Kairos way!