Missouri Senate conservatives stray from party on sweeping education bill; ‘Parents Bill of Rights’ heads to Missouri House

State Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, talks about his bill on the Senate floor Wednesday. (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent)

State Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, talks about his bill on the Senate floor last Wednesday. | Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent

The Missouri Senate passed a sweeping education bill to the House on Tuesday that would create transparency requirements for school districts and ban them from teaching some diversity, equity and inclusion curriculum.

The bill also seeks to add a patriotism course for teachers, open transportation funding to intradistrict transfer programs and increase funding for districts with impoverished and homeless students.

The current legislation is the result of a bipartisan compromise a few conservative senators said weakened the bill. Republican Sens. Mike Moon and Jill Carter broke with their party to vote against the bill Tuesday alongside the Senate’s 10 Democrats.

Sen. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, voted for the bill despite raising concerns during Tuesday’s debate. He thought the bill’s provisions on the patriotism course should be tightened to give better guidance to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which could write the course’s curriculum.

He also wondered why language requiring school districts to provide parents curriculum documents didn’t include other taxpayers.

“I would like to see taxpayers being empowered as well to access where their money’s going and to see what type of curriculum, what type of education, those tax dollars are going toward,” Schroer said.

Koenig said he was asked to remove more expansive language that included all taxpayers as part of a compromise.

“I hope that we can either clarify some of these issues in the House and it comes back over here without changing legislative intent,” Schroer said.

As Koenig debated with Harrisonville Republican Sen. Rick Brattin on the floor, he recalled another bill some members of his party were afraid became too soft after bipartisan talks.

“I was worried it was too weakened up, but it actually had a substantial effect in St. Louis County,” he said about a previous session’s bill affecting COVID restrictions.

Moon, R-Ash Grove, was not convinced. While seated in Senate chambers, he received a message from an attorney.

Moon rose and read part of the message, saying the attorney claimed the transparency provision has a loophole for districts to hide information: Copyright.

The bill says learning material should be given to parents and students “provided that no provision of such materials violates copyright, trademark or other  intellectual property right.”

Moon said he expects disputes between parents and school districts over access to information.

Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, and Brian Williams, D-University City, criticized another portion of the billpertaining to so-called “critical race theory.” 

May likened it to “Jim Crow laws,” or laws that segregated African Americans after the Civil War.

The provision has spurred debate about the theory, although Koenig has yet to define critical race theory in his bills.

Instead, the bill approved Tuesday gives examples of concepts that would be banned, such as “that individuals of any race, ethnicity, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.”

May said educators should be aiming to stir conversations, and she worries this bill inhibits that.

“Teachers have got to teeter on having a discussion with students,” she said. “The best form of learning is if you can create a conversation in the room with students around any subject, think about them and experience all of those kinds of emotions.”

She said the bill is not “letting [students] explore.”

Revisions after closed-door talks clarified that teachers can talk about racism in a historical context.

“This section shall not be construed to prohibit teachers or students from discussing public policy issues, current events, or ideas that individuals may find unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive,” the bill also says.

A fiscal note estimates the bill would cost $105 million to $285 million or more in fiscal year 2024 and $77 million to $80 in the fiscal years following. The financial burden comes from a $3,000 stipend given to teachers who complete the patriotism course.

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