Missouri House of Representatives District 29 voters will decide between a current teacher and a former teacher in Tuesday’s primary election as the Democratic choice to face Republican incumbent Noel Torpey in November.
So it’s only natural that education is a main priority for Democrats John Sutton and Winston Apple.
Sutton, 58, a chemistry and biology teacher in the Independence School District for more than 22 years, is making education a staple of his platform. Apple, a musician and former social studies teacher for 20 years, wrote a book on the educational system called “Edutopia: A Manifesto for the Reform of Public Education.”
Sutton, who will teach at Bingham Middle School this fall after six years at Van Horn High School, is concerned with how public education is paid for at the state level.
“The legislature needs to make sure it is writing legislation to fully fund education,” said Sutton, who lost to Torpey for the District 29 seat in the 2012 election. “Short-changing education is not a good idea. We need to look at how money is being spent for it. We’ve spent about $300 million from the lottery but I’ve heard there’s probably $450 (million) to $500 million available. What has the legislature done with that money?
“And most of it goes to the A+ program. Most of that money that is supposed to be spent on education is not filtering down to the schools. We need to spend that money on our public schools.”
Apple, 65, who retired from teaching in 2005, said he has 19 specific proposals for reforming the education system in his book, but says that his main point is eliminating bureaucracy. He says he would allow an open public school system rather than simply have students transfer from unaccredited school districts.
“Although there are numerous exceptions, as a general rule, students from low-income families typically achieve at a lower level than students from middle and upper income families. Their scores on standardized tests reflect this. Since we judge schools primarily on the basis of standardized test scores, school districts are less than enthusiastic about accepting transfer students from urban districts,” Apple said.
“The best resolution is to provide a full range of educational opportunities to students of all ages and income levels.”
Sutton said that education is also integral in another of his main issues, which is providing jobs.
“The better educated population we have, the better we will be able to provide jobs,” Sutton said. “Education is the key to all of that. We need to provide two courses of study – vo-tech programs and college prepatory – and that would help us have a better prepared workforce. Education solves most of our problems.”
Jobs is also a concern of Apple’s, and he believes an investment in green energy and a New Deal-type state jobs program will help create them.
“The middle class is shrinking, students are graduating from college buried in debt and, in many cases, are unable to find work in their chosen field,” Apple said. “Although it lacks the drama of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, chronic long-term unemployment is wrecking the lives of far too many people.
“My plan to address both of these issues is to put New Deal type jobs programs in place here in Missouri, with a primary emphasis on moving to clean, renewable sources of energy as rapidly as possible. … A ramp-up in production in response to the threat posed by global warming could end The Great Recession and improve the lives of millions of Missourians.”
Sutton and Apple both said the tax break passed by the state legislature was a step in the wrong direction in putting people to work.
“I’ve read where the tax break is going to put only $32 back in the pocket of an average Missourian,” Sutton said. “The 25 percent tax rate means only that the rich get richer. The rich are just sticking that money in their pockets and not hiring another five employees. If the tax break would have come with a provision that the money has to be used to hire more workers then I would have been for that because we’d be putting people to work instead of lining rich people’s pockets.”
Both candidates agree health care and the Affordable Care Act are big issues. While Sutton is not in favor of “Obamacare,” he agrees the state should accept federal money and expand Medicaid because the state should follow federal law.
Apple says “Obamacare” was “a step in the right direction” but would make a major tweak.
“Health care costs could be dramatically reduced and health insurance made truly affordable by adding a public option,” Apple said. “My proposal for a market-oriented public option would work the way insurance is supposed to work – with benefits kicking in only in the case of major medical expenses. Getting both the government and private insurance companies out of their role as middlemen would result in a dramatic reduction to the cost of health care.”
Both want to unseat Torpey in November but each thinks he is the better man for that job. Torpey is running unopposed in the Republican primary.
“I think I’m more in touch with what’s going on in the schools now than Winston,” Sutton said. “I’ve stayed involved in community projects. I’ve been in the military and I’m a good Christian and have a lot of life experiences he doesn’t have. With that skill set I think I can look at the average Missourian and know what will help them.”
Said Apple: “I believe that I am the better choice in the Democratic primary for two reasons. First, because I have better ideas for how to address the threat of global warming, end unemployment, and make health care more affordable. And secondly, because I have a better chance of defeating the Republican incumbent in November.”