State Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, inquires of bill sponsor Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, on the Senate floor Wednesday: "You don’t see a lot of lawsuits coming out of this?” (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent)
After days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Missouri Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation that included a watered-down version of the GOP-backed ban on so-called “critical race theory.”
But the changes weren’t enough to win over Democrats, who allege the bill still runs the risk of being a “tool to bludgeon public schools that are already struggling.”
“The only people who benefit are those who have an interest in dismantling public schools,” said Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, during Wednesday’s debate.
The legislation seeks to create a statewide portal to house curriculum and school financials, enshrine parental rights, ban some lessons on race and form a patriotism course for teachers.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, introduced a new version of the legislation on Wednesday, adding provisions that would open transportation funding to magnet schools and prohibit students from accessing inappropriate material on school-issued devices.
Despite her reservations about the overall bill, Arthur praised a 4% increase in the funding the state allocates for impoverished students that Koenig included in the newest version.
The legislation would also establish a 15% increase per homeless child in a district. Arthur noted that homeless kids require more “wraparound services.”
She did, however, have concerns that some of the bill’s provisions will put additional administrative burdens on teachers, who in the face of massive shortages in districts around the state are “just trying to find 10 minutes to go to the bathroom.”
As part of the so-called “Parents Bill of Rights,” teachers would have to make educational materials available to parents, upon request, within two days if a document is not copyrighted.
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School staff would have to upload details of professional development, third-party speakers and list online all books required in its courses.
Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, worried about the bill’s provision prohibiting certain lessons about race. She was among the Black senators who last week blocked passage of the bill when it first came up for debate in the chamber.
“You’re still hindering the dialogue and restricting a teacher’s ability to freely educate students on history and things like that,” she said Wednesday.
The section seeks to bar educators from demanding teachers or students affirm certain ideas about race. New additions to the provision clarify that it would not inhibit teachers from “discussing current events in a historical context” or bar discussion of the ideas, so long as teachers clarify the school doesn’t endorse the opinions.
One such viewpoint the bill says would violate the policy is: “That individuals of any race, ethnicity, color or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.”
Koenig said his bill would not prohibit teaching that individuals have labeled others as inferior in the past. He just doesn’t want people proclaiming that today.
May said the bill was “teetering” on a “fine line.” She worried about the “unintended consequences.”
“If a teacher is teaching something, and a student goes home to their parents and tells them it and misinterpreted what the teacher said, are we now going to have recorders in the classroom? How do we deal with that situation?” May said.
“You don’t see a lot of lawsuits coming out of this?” she asked.
Koenig said teachers can appeal when parents allege that they taught something out of compliance with the policy.
According to the bill, parents who catch a teacher in violation of this section are granted money to an educational expense account for their student, paid out by the violating district.
Only a handful of senators were present as they gave a voice vote to grant initial approval to the bill. The legislation still requires a a roll-call vote to head to the House.
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