JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said she's looking forward to "the focus returning to educating our children" following a failed attempt Tuesday to remove her from office.
State Board of Education members voted 4-4 during a closed meeting on the question of ousting her. That's one vote short of what was needed to ax her.
Vandeven had been quiet about the move to unseat her and released just the one-line statement after the vote, which came after months of effort by Gov. Eric Greitens to fill the state board with his own appointees and replace the state's top education official.
In a last-minute switch, Greitens on Monday rescinded an appointee who had said he supports Vandeven and announced a replacement within an hour of Tuesday's meeting.
Including his latest pick Jennifer Edwards of Decoding Dyslexia Missouri, Greitens has filled enough seats with his appointees to get the needed majority to fire the commissioner.
But the plan backfired when one of Greitens' own appointees, Claudia Onate Greim, voted against those efforts. She had been one of three Greitens picks who called for the closed meeting.
All of Greitens' other appointees, including Edwards, voted to kick Vandeven out. Three members previously appointed to the board voted in favor of Vandeven, who has received widespread support from education groups in the state and from both Democratic and Republican state lawmakers.
Local education officials and other supporters of Vandeven filled the halls outside the closed meeting and applauded as she and Board President Charlie Shields walked into the meeting. Shields was among those who later voted against dismissing Vandeven.
Afterward, Missouri School Boards' Association Executive Director Melissa Randol said the vote will "be very good for the 900,000 kids that are depending on us doing the right thing today."
It's still unclear exactly why Greitens wants a new commissioner to lead the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, an agency that is quasi-independent from the governor.
Greitens' office put out a statement after Tuesday's vote that did not specifically address what about Vandeven's performance led him to seek her ouster and raised concerns with some decisions that were not made by Vandeven. Greitens said "insiders and bureaucrats will lie" and they are desperate to avoid change.
He said school administrators are paid too much and teachers are paid too little, decisions that are up to local school boards. He criticized a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education change this year to stop paying for ACT testing, which came after state lawmakers cut test funding for several years.
The governor also cited National Assessment of Educational Progress rankings that show a drop in students' reading and math test scores from 2009 to 2015, the year Vandeven became commissioner. Greitens' spokesman Parker Briden noted that Vandeven was in department leadership before that.
Vandeven's departure could have paved the way for a new commissioner who shares Greitens' support for charter schools and other school-choice policies, possibly Atlanta school administrator and former charter school management organization leader Kenneth Zeff. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported that Greitens used campaign funds to fly Zeff — a White House fellow alongside Greitens in 2005 — to mid-Missouri in August.
Still pending are questions over the legality of Greitens' moves to rescind two of his appointees who seemed to be bucking his plans. State law says education board members can't be removed by the governor "except after written notice and hearing on charges of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office." But Briden has previously said the actions are "obviously legal."
Shields told reporters Tuesday those questions likely will need to be resolved in court.