Missouri Gov. Mike Parson vetoed a bipartisan bill last week because the detailed standards for an online STEM curriculum program seemed “narrowly tailored to apply to only one company.” And that company helped create that criteria, according to one of the bill’s handlers.
The measure would have offered an online program to Missouri middle-school students so they could prepare for science, technology, math and engineering careers starting in the 2019-2020 school year. The online provider had to meet a majority of the 12 criteria — including using game-based elements like an online leaderboard, focusing on more than 80 different STEM careers and being listed as a resource in the ACT’s 2015 “Condition of STEM” report.
Parson's office declined to comment beyond the veto letter he issued Friday.
Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, told KCUR that Learning Blade, which works with Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee public schools on STEM curriculum, helped with the language.
“They helped me kind of come up with some standards,” Fitzwater said, adding later, “they certainly helped us think through it because based on their work across the nation and other states where this has been implemented ... these are the things that stuck out for them.”
Learning Blade is owned by Thinking Media, a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based company that didn’t immediately provide comment. But Fitzwater added “many software companies” could meet the criteria, “so that’s why we negotiated the language because there were some concerns that it would be tailored to one company.”
Fitzwater said he couldn’t speak to whether it was a conflict of interest for Learning Blade to be involved in creating the criteria.
"The only thing I can really do is speak to the fact that I’ve just worked really hard to provide opportunities to kids and the best path forward for that was to have a company that’s already done some of this kind of help us think through what that looks like in other states where it’s been successful,” he said.
Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which did not have the online curriculum component. He said that was added by Fitzwater.
Libla said he understood why Parson made the veto, and said he plans to use next session to focus on getting a portion of the bill passed that would have allowed Missouri high school students to take computer science classes for math, science or practical art credits.
“Here we are 18 years into the 21st century and we are not offering computer science as a graduating credit for students through high school,” Libla said.
The education bill was one of a few that Parson vetoed next week.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.