Dear ___,

I hope you’re doing well. I just wanted to take a moment, as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s budget comes to a vote this week, to seek your help in preserving one small line item. That line item supports an institution dear to my heart and central, I believe, to my success thus far in life: the Missouri Scholars Academy.

I have written to legislators such as yourself several times over the past nine years with the same mission, and will continue to do so whenever necessary as long as the Academy exists, because I believe that this is an institution of enduring importance not just to myself and the more than 7,000 others who have attended over its 25-year history, but to the state of Missouri at large.

What the Missouri Scholars Academy provides is wholly unique among state educational programs: Each year, it offers approximately 330 promising high school sophomores from across the state, regardless of their socioeconomic status or particular set of interests, the chance to come together as a group and live and work in a college environment for three weeks. That may sound pretty simple, but what takes place there, as I can attest, is life-changing.

What the Academy offers gifted students, or at least what it offered me, is the promise of more to come. For teenagers in the throes of parental conflict and hormonal passions, it serves as a reminder, a swift academic kick to the head, if you will, of the opportunities that an education can provide—and the responsibility that comes with ability. Seeing that as a 16-year-old greatly broadened my sense of what was possible—and beyond that, the Academy’s almost compulsory call to use my intelligence, to question the way things are done, and to drill down to the heart of matters gave me confidence I needed to begin effecting change in the world around me.

The Academy also provided me with an instant network of peers, dozens of whom I’ve kept in touch with to this day because of the bond the Academy purposefully seeks to forge between participants. At every step of the way, the Academy emphasizes community values and openness to ideas, introducing participants to the importance of academic and intellectual community. Not only that, the Academy emphasizes the importance of bringing those lessons back home—meaning this program benefits not only the 330 students who attend, but also the schools and school districts those students are a part of.

Why does this matter to the state of Missouri? To me, it’s a clear matter of research and development. As an investor, if I see a company cutting back on R&D, that’s a sure sign that trouble’s on the horizon. It won’t be long before they’re unable to keep up with their competitors. Whenever I see a company undercut the future to pay for the present, I start to get worried—and I start to consider moving my money elsewhere. “Why should I invest in this company if it won’t invest in itself?” I wonder.

The same question may occur to anyone with a vested interest in our fair state: Why should anyone invest in Missouri if it won’t invest in itself?

There is much to fear in the elimination of opportunities like the Missouri Scholars Academy. The years to come may see funds—and intellectual capital—drain away to other states. A report by NPR last year found that Midwestern states are struggling to stem this sort of “brain drain,” as promising students move to greener pastures in increasing numbers. If the Academy’s budget is eliminated for 2010, we may find ourselves unable to secure matching federal grant money for the program going forward. Spaces may be reassigned in the program’s absence. Should these things come to pass, the valuable educational tradition the Academy upholds may be diminished or lost entirely.

Our state undoubtedly faces a real crisis right now, and budget cuts need to be taken where they can. But it’s important to understand that, as Rep. Martin Rucker commented in an earlier session, the Missouri Scholars Academy is one of the precious few programs the state funds for gifted students—and thus one of the few opportunities this state has to foster a generation of innovative student leaders who can help us navigate the manifold changes that lie ahead.

Give Missouri’s gifted students this opportunity now and it will return to you a hundredfold, in the form of high achievers and future innovators who find comfort at the Academy, a home in Missouri’s academic institutions, and a place to realize their goals right here in Missouri, rather than seeking their fortunes elsewhere. Already the Academy’s alumni lists are replete with individuals who were born and raised here and are now working and raising their children here. The Academy acquainted me with dozens of students who are now young parents and professionals—programmers, photographers, aides to politicians, and many others—who are now working to better their respective fields here in Missouri.

Believe me when I say that those three weeks spent at the Academy, when I was just 16 years old, affected me—in a positive way—more than any other experience I’ve had to date, and helped me and my peers see opportunities that would never even have been on our radar otherwise.

Now our hopes lie with you. Please help preserve this important opportunity for future generations of young Missourians by voting this week to retain Missouri Scholars Academy in the budget. I thank you in advance for your consideration.


M.J. Bauer