How Missouri Educators Won Big Against Anti-Public School Billionaire

missouriamendment3Missouri voters came out strong during the 2014 mid-term election—and with good reason: to stop a well-financed campaign to change the Missouri Constitution by taking away local control from schools, implement a one-size-fits-all approach to student learning, and increase school district costs.

But Amendment 3 was overwhelmingly defeated by a 3-1 margin, with more than 76 percent of ballots statewide saying “no.”

A group called Teach Great (now defunct), which in large part was financed by billionaire Rex Sinquefield, Missouri’s version of the Koch Brothers, was a main sponsor of the amendment. The organization raised more than $1.8 million to collect the required signatures to get the amendment on the November ballot.

Strong opposition was organized by a group called Protect Our Local Schools , which included parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, and the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA) and its local affiliates. The coalition, undeterred by billionaire capital, organized statewide to inform the education community of the amendment’s devastating affects on schools.

Amendment 3 aimed to strip local control from teachers and school districts and turn it over to politicians in Jefferson City, the state capital, who would have held the decision-making power to retain, dismiss, promote and demote educators. These decisions would have been determined from an evaluation system based on at least 51 percent of a student’s standardized test score.

Hazlewood NEA members get ready to rally support against Amendment 3.

Hazlewood NEA members get ready to rally support against Amendment 3.

Additionally, Amendment 3 would have required the state to implement even more unfunded, state-mandated standardized tests, threatening quality instruction that helps to produce good thinkers. The pressure many educators often feel to teach to the test would have been only exacerbated by the amendment. And the cost of producing these additional tests was upwards of $1 billion, which local school districts and taxpayers would have been forced to pay.

Educators were extremely vocal on this issue. “A politician should never control what happens in a local school district. Local school districts should decide what’s best for them,” said Andy Slaughter, a computer teacher from Meramec Valley.

Missouri NEA officials were out in full force—knocking on doors, making phone calls, sending letters to the editor, and hitting the airwaves—months before the Nov. 4 election. Being a part of a strong coalition of grassroots activists, who were steadfast and clear about the negative affects of Amendment 3, was key to the successful campaign against Amendment 3.

The state Association organized in every local and worked with as many school boards as possible to inform families of the proposed changes to the constitution. “The education community is being very well educated on this..,” said Susan McClintic, president of Columbia Missouri NEA in an interview with KOMU 8, an NBC affiliate.

Leading up to the election, more than 230 school boards passed resolutions opposing the amendment, and the coalition’s Facebook page received nearly 30,000 “Likes,” with 900,000 exposures compared to the 400 Teach Great received.

But the only success that mattered was delivered on Election Day. Of the 1.4 million people who turned out to vote on Nov. 4, nearly 1.1 million voted to reject Amendment 3.

“Students, parents and local schools triumphed…with the defeat of Amendment 3,” MNEA President Charles E. Smith said after the election. “Voters across the state sent a clear message rejecting one-size-fits all approaches to education that place Jefferson City bureaucrats over local students, parents and educators when it comes to deciding what’s best for students. The rejection of Amendment 3 sends a clear message—Missourians value their local schools and want extremists to keep their hands off.”