Give Liberty a Chance!

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies…

And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgement of faith in God and His works.

- Frederic Bastiat, The Law, 1850

Monday, April 28, 2008

Virtual Schools - An Update

In 2006, the Missouri General Assembly enabled the establishment of virtual schools with the passage of SB912. I argued then that this was one of the most significant innovations that could be made in education.

The Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MoVIP) has nearly completed its first full year of operation and it has been hailed by other states as one of the most innovative models in virtual-technology education. The MoVIP school introduces a virtual-technology alternative to enhance traditional classroom learning for thousands of Missouri students. The program is “state of the art” and is operated by the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education with state-certified teachers and meets our rigorous state standards.

Today, the MoVIP school offers on-line education for elementary (K – 5th grade) students and high school (9th - 12th grade) students, with plans for the middle school to be added in the fiscal year 2009. The program serves over 2,000 full-time and part-time students enrolled in over 11,000 classes.

How does it work?

This program integrates on-line learning, textbooks, hands-on lab work, along with “old-fashioned” paperwork to satisfy the curriculum. The elementary teaching staff is based in Jefferson City and the high school is based at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. The virtual high school has its teachers and students located throughout the state. All teachers have daily contact with students through voice, text messaging, video, email, and real-time technology. Students are required to meet state standards and recently the MoVIP students completed their state MAP testing.

MoVIP offers education access that is nearly unprecedented.

While many rural school districts are struggling to hire or attract qualified and state-certified science and math teachers, others are taking advantage of the MoVIP school for their students for specific courses. It has also become a tool for struggling inner-city schools.

St. Louis and Kansas City schools have struggled for years to maintain accreditation and provide a quality education for those children. The MoVIP school is available to serve our inner-city students allowing them to overcome large class-room sizes and avoid the violence and pressures facing our inner-city neighborhoods. Students can learn safely from home, at their own pace, and receive that special attention that will give them a true head-start to success.

The MoVIP program is also assisting students around the world. Military families who find themselves stationed anywhere outside of Missouri, but choose to retain their Missouri residency are taking advantage of MoVIP. They are able to give their child a quality education without having to switch schools after each move enabling them to develop a relationship with their teachers and grow as students.

There is even one Missouri family serving in New Guinea as missionaries with children enrolled in the MoVIP giving them an alternative over sending their children to a boarding school. Several students who are home-bound due to a severe disability or illness are also enrolled in the MoVIP school and receiving quality public education.

Is all of this worth it? The cost of educating a full-time student in the MoVIP is less than $5000 per student. This is well below the 2007 state average expenditure of $8687 per student. Once the MAP testing results are available, the state will be able to determine the value of the MoVIP school.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

When Washington Stumbles

A nation founded on the fundamental principle of the rule of law must at times remind itself that no one is exempt from that principle. In fact, it is contrary to this founding principle to accept that those who enter this country illegally should be afforded those same privileges under the Constitution and laws of the land as citizens and legal immigrants.

Illegal immigration creates a problem in our state, because it threatens the job security and services available for Missourians. The General Assembly is taking action that will make Missouri’s stance on illegal immigration clear. Last week the Senate passed SB858 and this week the House passed HB1549 which institutes policies that keep our state from becoming a safe-haven for illegal aliens.

Illegal immigration is a growing problem in our country and Washington has failed to act to protect our borders. Missourians are directly affected by the growing population of illegal aliens. The U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2005 population survey suggests that there are between 35,000-65,000 illegal aliens living in the state of Missouri. An Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimate from 2000 found that the illegal alien population in our state rose 38% in a four-year period and 175% in a ten-year period. In 2007, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 8,900 illegal aliens from a six-state area that included Missouri.

Proposals under consideration in the legislation moving through the General Assembly are designed to deter illegal aliens from coming to Missouri. While some cities throughout the nation have adopted policies that would give illegal aliens sanctuary, Missouri will make it clear that this practice will not be tolerated. This legislation would prohibit municipalities within our state from granting sanctuary to illegal aliens. Any city, town, or village that does adopt such a policy would not be able to receive any state grants.

Allowing illegal aliens to receive a driver’s license wrongly validates their residency in this country. Other states have considered schemes that would allow illegal aliens to receive a driver’s license. Legislation this year will prohibit illegal aliens from obtaining a driver’s license from the Missouri Department of Revenue and specifies that a driver’s license issued to an illegal alien in another state would not be valid in Missouri. It also stipulates that commercial driver’s tests must be given in English without the benefit of a translator being present.

Our state provides public benefits such as housing assistance, food assistance, and unemployment for Missourians struggling to make ends meet. This legislation would require public assistance recipients to prove residency before receiving any benefits. The bill would work to make sure that illegal aliens in Missouri are not able to collect non-emergency public benefits.

This legislation also makes Missouri less appealing for taking advantage of illegal aliens for cheap labor. The legislation specifically states that employers are barred from employing unauthorized workers. Businesses that continue to do so would be subject to the suspension of their business permits and licenses. Violators under contract with the state would have their contracts voided and be barred from contracting with the state for three years. Contractors that continue to violate the measure would be permanently barred from contracting with the state. The bill also requires employers on state contracts or using state grants, loans, or tax credits to participate in a federal work authorization program in order to be eligible for state contracts. Public employers would also be required to participate in the program. These provisions also apply to general contractors and subcontractors and would make them potentially liable for instances such as illegal hiring fraud.

Unfortunately, Missouri cannot afford to wait for Washington to act on the issue of illegal immigration. Lady Liberty will continue to hold her lamp of freedom high with an outstretched arm to light the way “beside the golden door” that millions have already passed through legally. America will always welcome those who honor the fundamental principles of our Nation’s founding, but she will always recognize in Theodore Roosevelt’s words that, “Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

Progress in Missouri

This past week was a very busy week for the House and the Senate. The House worked into the early morning Thursday to pass over 70 bills that are considered “consent”, i.e. bills that are not controversial, do not come with a cost to taxpayers, and have no penalties associated with them. In addition, legislation passed both chambers that could have a significant positive impact for Missouri.

Property Taxes - HJR43
As I mentioned earlier in the year, the General Assembly is considering a number of ways to help people suffering from the financial strain caused by excessive property taxes. The House has passed a proposed constitutional amendment that, upon voter approval, changes the rollback requirement for the Hancock Amendment by requiring the current levy, instead of the voter approved maximum levy, to be reduced in a reassessment year. These rollbacks are intended to protect property owners from sharp tax rate increases and prevent windfall revenues by taxing entities in reassessment years. If approved by the Senate, it will be on the ballot for voters to approve in November 2008.

Judicial Taxation – HJR41
While we can’t control the actions of federal judges, we can ensure Missouri judges don’t overreach and stake a claim on the power to tax. The House gave approval this past week for a proposed constitutional amendment that would clearly state that the judiciary does not have the power to tax through court order. Specifically, this proposed amendment prohibits the Missouri Supreme Court or any other court of the state from ordering the state, a county, or any city to increase taxes. The amendment also prohibits any Missouri court from controlling how the state, a county, or any city spends, allocates, or budgets, except as expressly authorized by legislation or approved by Missouri voters. If approved by the Senate, it will be on the ballot for voters to approve this November.

Illegal Immigration – SB858
The Missouri Senate kept itself busy this past week by approving legislation dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. The bill has a number of provisions including: prohibiting illegal aliens from obtaining a driver’s license; prohibiting the creation of sanctuary cities in the state; requiring verification of the legal employment status of every public employee; allowing for the cancellation of state contracts for contractors if they hire illegal immigrants; requiring public agencies to verify the legal status of applicants before providing welfare benefits; criminalizing the transportation of illegal aliens for the purposes of human trafficking, drug trafficking, prostitution, or illegal labor; and enacting provisions to punish bad acting employers who hire illegal aliens. This bill is now under consideration of the House.

Protecting Missourians from excessive property taxes; strengthening our Constitution by further defining the roles of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches; and taking leadership to protect our national sovereignty – not a bad week, not a bad week at all.