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House education panel hears several 'parental bill of rights' bills

by Anna Campbell | February 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

The House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education passed a stack of bills Tuesday that would alter curriculum practices, transportation and one that could potentially overhaul the accreditation practices in public schools.

The committee discussed House Joint Resolution 110, sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, one of many "parental bill of rights." Unlike others, Christofanelli's bill would be a constitutional amendment, subject to approval of voters.

Christofanelli outlined some changes to the bill, including the creation of a grading system for schools. Under this system, every school would receive an A-F grade based on statewide test scores, dropout numbers, GPA and attendance.

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, asked whether this would change the accreditation system.

Christofanelli said it would.

"I'm all about changing the accreditation system. I have not been quiet about that. I do not like how it's handled right now. I don't think it's appropriate. But assigning letter grades, I mean, changing the entire system in a two-page bill? I can't even say how ridiculous I find that, and I apologize," Brown said.

Christofanelli said the bill was still in the early stages of the legislative process, and there would be plenty of steps for the bill to be vetted later on.

Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, said the bill had already been vetted during the previous legislative session.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, questioned whether "outside interests" were at play in the bill.

"If by outside interests, you mean parents and kids that want better schools, I would say yes, that it is," Christofanelli said.

Nurrenbern said the letter grade system would incentivize "checking boxes" rather than actually improving education. She also said she was reminded of the House floor debate on the initiative petition process, in which representatives said it was important to make the process more difficult to prevent outside interests from persuading Missourians.

Christofanelli also amended the bill to say that for any building that scores a D or F under that accountability system, the General Assembly would create an "adequate alternative education opportunity" in that district, prompting quite a bit of back-and-forth over the terminology.

Nurrenbern asked Christofanelli to explain what he meant by "alternative education opportunity."

"What does adequate and equitable education that the constitution requires mean? It's legislation that is entered into the constitution and will be litigated through time," Christofanelli said.

"No, gentleman, that wasn't my question, what does that mean?" Nurrenbern asked.

"What does due process mean?" Christofanelli asked.

"Gentleman, my question: it says in your amendment, parents of a child in any such district shall have the right to select such alternative education opportunity. What in your mind, what would an alternative education opportunity be?"

"Representative, we discuss alternative education opportunities all the time," Christofanelli responded.

Nurrenbern asked whether a family would be able to take their money and go to a private school.

Christofanelli said if that's what the General Assembly decided on, potentially, yes.

"Every option is on the table is what I see now, Gentleman, with your language," Nurrenbern later said.

"I believe that every option should be on the table to deliver quality education to parents and kids of the state of Missouri, thank you representative," Christofanelli said.

Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, took issue with the bill.

"My gosh, I just think this process is so indicative of this CRT scare. What are y'all afraid of? You don't even know," Mackey said.

HJR 110 was voted do pass by the committee.

The committee also passed:

• HB 2306, which would move school board elections to the November general election and would extend terms to four years.

• HB 1814, which would allow students to attend another school district besides their residential district as long as their parent owns residential or agricultural property and pays the school tax for three years in that district.

• HB 2428, which would prevent schools or school employees from compelling discussion of public policy issues in the classroom.

• HB 1973, which would allow the use of other vehicles beyond buses for school transportation.

• HB 2095, which would require the Children's Division of the Department of Social Services to investigate reports of child abuse within schools, rather than the schools investigating.

• HB 2010, which would place the burden of proof on school districts in due process hearings for children with a disability, rather than on the parent.

• HB 1903, which would allow students to transfer to a virtual education program without the approval of their in-seat school district.

• A combination of HB 1995 and HB 1474, which would create a "Parents' Bill of Rights" that includes the right to information about what students are being taught and the right to visit their child during school hours.

Bills that are passed out of House committee can be heard on the House floor.

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