Letter From Langdon: What’s at the Root of a ‘Stimulus’ for Rural Schools

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At schools in Kansas City, I saw indoor pools, multi-lingual classes and even a fencing coach from Russia.

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describes the vote as a “Vision for the Future.” 

Somebody around here needs a vision, that’s for sure. In November of 2008, Missouri voters approved a ballot proposition that eliminated gambling loss limits in return for an additional 1% tax on casino earnings. When the first $112 million worth of revenue arrived, the Missouri General Assembly promptly responded by cutting a like amount of school funding from general revenue.

We’re getting nowhere fast.

Funding problems for rural schools in Missouri go back a long way, to a time when a federal judge forced the state to spend more money to integrate public schools in Kansas City and St Louis. Rather than add money to the overall budget, state legislators simply took money away from small town Missouri and gave it to the cities.

In the ’90s, I toured several magnet schools in Kansas City with other rural school board members from Northwest Missouri. We saw indoor swimming pools, multi-lingual classes, and even met a Russian fencing coach.

Russell Lee

In 1940, photographer Russell Lee found children in Pie Town, New Mexico, going to school in a Farm Bureau building.

In fact, many Rock Port students graduate from high school and are able to enroll at a sophomore level in college. That’s because we have experienced teachers accredited to teach at the college level. Our rural high school students actually earn college credits from their classes.

For communities like Rock Port, achievement is measured by how many high school graduates go on to further their education. Success rates of our students show in their achievements. 

You might say we rely on strong job export markets in the cities in order for our kids to be successful. For lack of a better alternative, our next generation lives and works in the same places we compete with for funding.

Sometimes it seems like the big towns win either way.

Rock Port isn’t alone. Rural schools in Missouri and all over America are fighting the same battles to retain control of the type and quality of education their children will receive. While some may see the issue in simple terms of dollars and cents, my own sense is that our tax base and the revenue it produces will belong to government big or small whether we support our local schools or not. Small schools and school boards represent local control and the ability to offer our children opportunity. They are at the very root both of self-government and democracy itself.

Here around Langdon, those roots run deep.

Editor’s Note: The people of Langdon voted 595 to 322 Tuesday to increase the tax rate for their local schools.

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