JEFFERSON CITY – A wide-ranging education bill is headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.
The bill, SB 681, was sponsored by Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, and grew to include proposals from a large number of legislators. The House passed it Thursday on a vote of 125-5. Earlier, the Senate passed it 29-4.
The legislation would promote literacy programs, address lead in schools’ drinking water, require written permission from parents for the use of corporal punishment, adjust how school districts investigate claims of abuse, remove requirements for adult high schools to provide on-site child care and Establish a Holocaust education commission.
It also would require special instruction plans for visually impaired students, increase state funding for the career ladder program, establish an “imagination library” and more.
Some policies that were included in the legislation, including broad open enrollment, were removed. Rather than allowing for statewide open enrollment, the legislation now includes a narrower provision. Beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, parents could send their children to a different school from their primary residence if they owned residential or agricultural property in that other district and paid more than $2,000 in school taxes to that district for four consecutive years.
Other provisions that were cut from the bill would have offered guidance on the instruction of Black history, required school districts to report how they spend federal aid and mandated teaching cursive writing.
The bill also did not grow to include changes that some Republican legislators had sought, including limits on transgender athletes from participating in high school sports or bans on “critical race theory” in Missouri schools.
Democrats on Thursday were mostly supportive of the bill but lamented the narrowing of open enrollment provisions and the removal of education guidance for Native American and Black history.
“It’s tough, the things that came off this bill,” said Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City. “But at the end of the day, we cannot allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.”
Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, handled the bill in the House.
The proposals that made it through the process would change the landscape of education in Missouri in a number of ways.
The legislation would promote literacy by establishing two new entities: an Office of Literacy and a Literacy Advisory Council.
The “Get the Lead Out of School Drinking Water Act” would require schools to provide drinking water with less than 5 parts per billion of lead by the start of the 2023-2024 school year. The act also outlines processes for testing drinking water and responses if a higher than acceptable concentration of lead is found.
The corporal punishment section would require notification to and written permission from parents before corporal punishment is used on their child.
The bill also would change requirements for child care at adult high schools. Currently, the law requires institutions designated as “adult high schools,” places that provide a high school education for adults, to provide on-site child care for the children of enrolled students. The bill removes on-site, but the requirement for providing child care remains.
The Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission Act establishes a state commission within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to promote Holocaust education and awareness programs. The second week in April would be designated Holocaust Education Week.
Schools would be required to produce individualized education plans and individualized family support plans for blind and visually impaired students in the state. These plans would prioritize the instruction of Braille and access to nonvisual accessible assistive technology.
The bill also includes the Career Ladder Program, which provides raises to experienced teachers who provide additional services outside of direct instruction. The bill expands the number of people who are eligible and increases funding for salary supplements.
The imagination library is a program intended to encourage reading by preschool children. The program would provide books to children under the age of 5. The imagination library would be a state affiliate of an international program sponsored by pop and country music star Dolly Parton.
Teghan Simonton contributed to this report.