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SWMO senator appointed as Missouri education commissioner

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Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, who represents a portion of southwest Missouri in the state Senate, has been appointed as the next Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner.

Eslinger is slated to start June 1, 2024, as commissioner of DESE, according to a news release. A Republican who serves as the majority caucus whip in the Senate, Eslinger represents District 33, which comprises Douglas, Howell, Ozark, Shannon, Stone, Taney and Texas counties, according to her biography at

"Karla Eslinger comes with over 30 years of education experience and a strong understanding of public education and its importance for lifelong success,” Gov. Mike Parson said in the release. “She is a tenacious leader who has a vision that will continue to move the needle forward in our Missouri schools. Karla has an excellent reputation for being able to bring people together to get the job done."

The State Board of Education announced the appointment.

Eslinger has been picked to succeed Margie Vandeven, who in October announced she would resign from the education commissioner job in July 2024.

Eslinger, who started her time in the Missouri General Assembly in 2018, was a classroom teacher, principal, district-level administrator and superintendent in southwest Missouri before serving as assistant commissioner in DESE’s office of educator quality, according to the release. She transitioned in 2013 to representing the U.S. Department of Education and supporting schools participating in the Race to the Top grant program.

She's scheduled to start as DESE's leader after concluding her work in the state Senate during the 2024 legislative session.

“My passion for education is a result of my own childhood. My family faced poverty and moved a lot — and the one constant in my life was school,” Eslinger said in the release. "I’m certain my future would look very different if not for my public school education. Children across Missouri depend on our schools in this same way, and I look forward to ensuring every child in our state receives the quality educational opportunities they deserve.”


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