Recent | Ed Emery for State Senate 31

Public School Retirement System

Public School Retirement System

As the 2015 legislation session is drawing to a close, there are several issues that remain in the legislative process. One issue receiving multiple inquiries deals with a segment of Missouri’s public pensions. Over the last decade, due to the turbulent investment environment, public pension issues have gained increased attention across the country. Missouri’s public pensions have had a more positive experience than many others across the country and for that we are all thankful.   A public pension provision moving through the Missouri Legislature this session deals with the permanent extension of the 2.55 percent benefit multiplier for public school teachers or administrators with 31 or more years of service within PSRS (Public School Retirement System of Missouri). PSRS is a defined-benefit pension plan providing lifetime pension benefits for most public school teachers in Missouri. It is based on the following formula: The average of the highest three consecutive years of a teacher’s salary multiplied by a Benefit Multiplier (2.5 percent under normal provisions) multiplied by the teachers years of Service.   The bill before the General Assembly this session permanently extends a “bonus” program for teachers and administrators with 31 or more years of service. This program expired July 1, 2014 and an extension is being heavily lobbied for by the teachers’ unions. There is, however, the rest of the story: The 2.55 percent bonus program was enacted in 2001 under HB 660 which was a public school pension package with a cost to taxpayers of $595 million in pension liabilities. When originally passed, this provision was set to expire in 2008. When reauthorized in 2007 under SB 406, the 2.55 percent bonus program was extended to 2013 at a cost to taxpayers of $25.4 million in plan liabilities. When extended for one additional year in 2013 under SB 17, the 2.55 percent bonus program cost taxpayers an additional $16 million in plan liabilities. In the General Assembly, we are now charged with the policy decision of permanently extending the 2.55 percent bonus program for public school teachers and administrators with 31 or more years of service which is now reported to produce a savings of $69.9 million in pension liabilities. Reducing pension liability is a positive endeavor, no doubt about it. The dramatic difference between multiple reports of cost associated with this bonus program and now a savings gives me pause for concern. I also find it in conflict with projections that in 1994 the average service of a teacher was 33 years without any kind of retirement incentive while the average service for new 2013 PSRS retirees is 23.2 years.   First, let me be clear, Missouri’s teachers are charged with one of the highest callings – cultivating our most precious blessing and resource: our children. Those that choose...

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Trading Away our Future: The Medicaid Expansion Debate

Trading Away our Future: The Medicaid Expansion Debate

“Bad ideas are not removed by assassination but by exposing them to evidence and reason.” –Anonymous The contrast in world views or at least political philosophy was front and center Tuesday night when an amendment was offered to expand Medicaid under pressure from Obamacare supporters. The amendment failed on a party-line vote of 25 to 9. The nature and content of debate as well as the party-line vote revealed the sharp contrast in party perspectives regarding government accountability, national debt, and the importance of considering the long term consequences of public policy decisions. The contrast of positions was occasionally punctuated by the question of whose numbers and analyses were most accurate, but the contest more often was between fiscal realities versus emotion. Those of us declaring that Medicaid expansion was already happening by around $300 million annually and that expansion would potentially bankrupt the state and heavily penalize education funding were labeled as heartless and uncaring. If we pointed to the constitutional mandate to balance the budget, we were accused of having no regard for the poor and uninsured. Concern is mounting that entitlement spending is growing such that for several years any increase in state revenue is immediately consumed by the growth in welfare-program demands. For example, last year’s revenue growth was approximately 2 percent greater than anticipated, but that entire amount – and then some – was required to balance the growth of Medicaid spending. It is difficult to reverse your position when it is rooted primarily in emotion. Additionally, a counter argument based on financial history, budgets, and forecasts may never overcome a point of emotion. One is an argument about how government can take better care of people; the other is an argument about how the taxpayer will pay for it. From the vote count, after the lengthy debate, it appears the practical argument won out, and we will not be expanding Medicaid in Missouri. On a lighter note, the Missouri Conservation Department has asked me to inform constituents that a number of outdoor activities are scheduled in or near the 31stSenatorial District. The following link can connect you to information on two Kid’s Fishing Days, Hunter Education Classes, and a pond management workshop: http://mdc.mo.gov/events Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. Thank you and we welcome your prayers for the proper application of state...

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Liberty is Choice

Liberty is Choice

“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”  — Samuel Adams Much of last week was applied to the “perfection” of Senate Bill 1, the so-called School Transfer Bill. Senate Bill 1 will receive one more vote in the Senate, the third-read vote, and then will move to the Missouri House for further consideration. A similar House bill,House Bill 42, has already passed the Missouri House and is awaiting a Senate hearing. Both bills address the pressing need to provide students a path out of failing schools. The bills will offer new options to parents who, regarding their children’s opportunity to learn and succeed, feel hopeless and helpless. New options for student learning include transferring within their district to schools that are succeeding, the expanded use of charter schools, and the availability of virtual schools. Senate Bill 1 also addresses the tragedy of “social promotion” – passing students to the next grade level, ready or not. The results of social promotion can include graduating seniors that can’t read or even make change. There are additional details and provisions in the two education bills, and of course the bills will likely be further refined throughout the process as one or both make their way to the governor’s desk. Fundamentally, SB 1 is about giving parents and student’s choice; liberty is choice. By now you have heard about the tragic death of State Auditor Tom Schweich last Thursday. A large group of us attended a memorial service in St. Louis on Tuesday, March 3. Besides the unspeakable grief for his wife and children, Missouri has lost a brilliant statesman and incredibly effective auditor. Please pray for Tom’s family and all who mourn his passing. Monday, March 2, included a coordinated trip to Fort Leonard Wood for 23 state senators, a large number of House members, as well as statewide elected officials and federal legislators. The purpose of our visit was to support the incredible community, business, and state effort to win military support for keeping Fort Leonard Wood at its present staffing and mission level. Military budget cuts and base reductions are threatening thousands of military and support jobs in Pulaski and surrounding counties. Nearly 2,000 local citizens and military personnel attended the public hearing in support of the fort.  I have not attended any of the other 20-plus meetings in support of other bases, but the public support and the information provided could not have been more compelling. Now it is up to the military. Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at...

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Public Perception

Public Perception

“We must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.”  ― Stephen R. Covey   We have recorded and tallied responses from a total of 2,326 constituents who returned my recent survey. The most responses (2,294) were received in reply to the question of whether a student should be able to transfer to another district if one better fits their needs. Of those, 68 percent agreed that they should, with 38 percent disagreeing. The lowest number of replies (1,628) came from the question of how Missouri should fund any increase in Medicaid. Medicaid expansion was rejected by 68 percent against the 24 percent in favor, and, if expanded, funding by increasing taxes was preferred by 33 percent; 16 percent of respondents favored cuts in education funding; and 40 percent selected neither but without agreement on another approach. Possibly the reason for the low number of responses on Medicaid funding was the nearly 3 to 1 opposition to any expansion. Most survey questions supplied five possible choices: strongly agree, somewhat agree, no opinion, somewhat disagree, and strongly disagree. Combining the for and against positions produced the following results: Eliminating the state income tax 49 percent for – 39 percent against Right-to-Work 75 percent for – 21 percent against Option to transfer to private school 76 percent for – 18 percent against Assigning a letter grade to school buildings 72 percent for – 18 percent against Eliminating teacher tenure 76 percent for – 22 percent against. Much has been made of the 76 percent no vote on Amendment 3 last November, but survey results would suggest that was not a vote in support of tenure. The other two questions asked whether Missouri entitlements were too high – 48 percent; too low – 15 percent; or about right – 37 percent; and who should be in control of choices regarding a child’s education? Parents, by 77 percent, were selected as the right place for control of education choices with local school boards coming in second at 16 percent. The full survey results will be posted soon on my Senate website. Thank you to all who took time to complete the survey and those who sent additional comments. The survey confirms that we do not all agree on everything, but there was significant agreement on some of the most controversial issues. Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. We welcome your prayers for the proper application of state...

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Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge

Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge

“The schools are teaching what I ought and I what the schools ought.” –  Don Warren, parent and engineer An aphorism frequently repeated to our children was – “Pick your path; determine your destination.” We wanted them to know intuitively that their direction is more important than their location, their worldview more important than their circumstance. If you are lost, knowing where you are is not nearly as crucial as knowing what direction to go to be un-lost: to get where you want to be. Understanding and wisdom are about direction. There are many capable teachers of knowledge, fewer who are able to impart understanding and fewer still that should be trusted to impart wisdom. Wisdom is like the absolute of North, South, East and West; understanding knows which direction is home, and knowledge is able to read the compass. An individual’s worldview is immeasurably important to their choices, their reputation, and their direction; there is no winning argument to the contrary. That’s the reason I enjoy attending theEducation Policy Conference (EPC), offered annually in St. Louis, MO. Last week’s Capitol Report was inspired by the content of the EPC as is the Capitol Report this week. The quotation above from the remarks of Don Warren, one of the EPC presenters, grows out of his passion for truth in education and the love of a father of three small children. One EPC session this year addressed the ongoing battle to fight nationalization of public school curriculum via Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Collectivists and central planners are drawn to CCSS as a deceptively subtle conduit toward a clearly illegal government take-over of public and private schools. From “progressive” math to endless testing, to massive data collecting, and the expungement of Christianity, the pattern developing is the one described by Don Warren:“The schools are teaching what I ought and I what the schools ought.” In other words, the schools are high jacking the development of a worldview by imposing one that is government-approved but sabotaging learning by convolution. It is not the job of government schools to promote worldviews in competition with parents. Conversely, it is the task of those schools to teach accurate history and science, math and language arts, and to clearly differentiate fact and opinion. In 2014, Missouri passed House Bill 1490 to fight back against the illegal and unconstitutional implementation of CCSS that had already begun in Missouri public schools. Eight teams are working to develop Missouri Standards for Missouri schools. The teams file written reports monthly and presents periodically to the State Board of Education. Possibly the most significant weakness in the Missouri plan is that the standards developed by these eight teams must be approved by the State Board. If...

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Public Discourse

Public Discourse

Former U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Bachman reminded a crowd at the 26th annual Constitutional Coalition’s Educational Policy Conference (EPC) held in St. Louis that, “We must allow open debate that seeks the truth rather than allow untruths to become fact simply due to their lack of political correctness.  Topics that threaten the freedom of the American people are simply brushed aside for the simple fact that a small group of people have dictated that these topics are not politically correct.”  This de facto encroachment has slowly eroded the First Amendment rights of the public by shaming them into silence. Our Founding Fathers believed the freedom of expression to be so important they incorporated it into the Bill of Rights.  But there are some who seek to limit freedom of speech.  They have not been so brazen as to flat out deny that right to the American people but have instead adopted a covert war on words. George Orwell, in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four, wrote of censors removing any language that would threaten the regime.  Some might say changing the meaning of words is a work of fantasy or a problem that happens elsewhere but not in the United States. However, this could not be further from the truth.  The transformation of words is happening now.  Words like “free”, “diversity”, and “greed” no longer have the same meaning they did a generation ago.  This was the theme addressed by Daniel Hannan, a Member of European Parliament and author, during his lecture at the EPC. “Free” in this country used to mean the ability to assemble, to believe in your own religion, and to form your own opinions.  Freedom now means entitlements; free access to healthcare, free food, free housing, free utilities, free childcare, and free money, all provided by the government by way of the taxpayer.  Genuine freedom is the opportunity to seek a life outside the bondage of governmental programs.  Conversely hard work and struggle are no longer indicators of character and virtue, but now have negative social stigmas.  The American Dream once rested in the promise of reward from hard work but has come to mean dependence on government via the social welfare system. The word “diversity” has come to be applied to race, creed, and gender, but seldom to ideas. The intrinsic value of diversity appears when people with different backgrounds and experiences profit from open debate.  Different perspectives allow us to solve complex issues and generate positive outcomes by looking at problems from different vantage points.  I often learn the most through civil discourse from those with whom I disagree. “Greed” is another example of a devolving lexicon.  Greed was once used to describe those who seek, unethically or illegally,...

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Paid for by Citizens for Ed Emery - Rex Rector, Treasurer