Several Missouri bills seek to drum up more teachers, staff

State Rep. Willard Hailey, R-Eldon, Missouri (News Tribune file photo)
State Rep. Willard Hailey, R-Eldon, Missouri (News Tribune file photo)

Staff shortages in schools across Missouri prompted a slew of bills attempting to drum up more teachers and staff to fill vacancies.

The Missouri House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education heard HB 1998, sponsored by Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic, which would allow local school districts to issue local teaching permits for up to 15 percent of their faculty.

The districts would set the requirements, which must include a background check, professional development, a mentoring program and a bachelor's degree at minimum. The permit would only apply in the district that issued it.

Davidson said the bill is not just intended to address a teacher shortage, but also to make teaching a viable second or third career option for professionals.

Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, said there was already an occupational licensure system.

"There is a system that's used, and sometimes we create stuff just to create stuff," Black said, adding the licensure system in place was simpler.

The Missouri State Teachers Association opposed the bill, saying it was not the role of local districts to set standards to certify teachers. The Missouri National Education Association also testified in opposition, saying there are plenty of alternative certification routes already.

HB 1881, sponsored by Black, would change retirement rules to combat a teacher shortage.

Currently, a retired teacher can continue to collect retirement and return to teaching for up to two years in schools experiencing a shortage. This bill would extend that period to four years.

He said this wouldn't just apply to teaching but could also apply to other positions, such as bus drivers.

Several organizations testified in support of the bill.

HB 1928, sponsored by Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, would expand the visiting scholar program to allow individuals who have experience in certain subjects to temporarily teach on them in school districts without going through the normal certification process.

His bill also garnered support from educational organizations.

While methods for combating a staff shortage were top priorities, both the House and Senate education committees discussed other bills as well.

Rep. Willard Haley, R-Eldon, sponsored HB 2132, which would prevent statewide assessments from including statements or questions that promote concepts that "one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex or that an individual's race or sex is oppressive or objectionable to others," he said.

Haley said the bill is a pre- emptive measure since he doesn't know of any statements or questions in current assessments that would be contrary to his bill.

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, said, "I have lots of concerns, mainly just because we're creating a law for something that does not exist."

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, asked Haley to respond to her comments.

"The premise of this is making sure that we aren't distinguishing or differentiating because that is kind of a weakness in our society," she prompted.

"Yes, I agree with that," Haley said. "I think we need to just accept each other as equals and move on, and it seems like we keep getting a wedge driven between different races and different genders."

Nurrenbern said she had come to the conclusion "the colorblind approach is not the correct approach."

"It is really our diversity that's our strength," Nurrenbern said.

Nurrenbern said she saw the bill as legislation in search of a problem that doesn't exist.

Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, added 26 other states were considering similar legislation.

The Missouri NEA spoke in opposition to the bill. One concern was the use of the word "concept," which it said was too vague.

Sharon Jones, of Missouri State Conference NAACP and Promo, also testified in opposition, specifically discussing point nine of the bill, which would prevent questions or statements on tests that could promote the concept that "slavery and racism, with respect to their relationship to American values, are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality."

Jones said under the founding fathers, slavery was enshrined in the original constitution and the constitution said people of color were not full citizens of the country, which is something that could be discussed on a history assessment.

"Would you be able to ask that question on a statewide assessment? I don't think you would," she said.

Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic, said he did not think it would prohibit the inclusion of that question.

Jones said she feared people creating the test might avoid the subject altogether out of caution.

On the Senate side, the education committee discussed two bills: SB 660, sponsored by Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, and SB 647, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester.

Arthur's bill would create several programs that would:

• Allow students to obtain a diploma early and apply their district's aid to a higher education savings account

• Offer grants for the creation of competency-based education programs.

• Create a task force to study competency-based programs and report findings to legislative officials.

• Allow districts to receive funding for competency-based courses

The bill defines "competency- based" learning as learning that allows students to progress at their own pace after showing mastery of a subject and potentially graduate early.

Koenig's bill would allow parents to file a formal objection to school policies or practices if they are not required by state law. The school board must answer the response within 30 days. If the board denies the parent's objection, they may appeal to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education within 15 days.

The bill also would allow parents to receive either $1,500 or the equivalent of the local property taxes they paid the previous year to be used for educational expenses if they district failed to respond according to the requirements.

Other senators questioned whether there should be a process outlined in the bill prior to taking an issue to the school board. Representatives from the Missouri State Conference NAACP, Promo, the Missouri Association of School Administrators, and the American Federation of Teachers in Missouri spoke in opposition.

HB 1998: Teaching permits

Sponsor: Rep. Bishop Davidson

HB 1881: Public school retirement system

Sponsor: Rep. Rusty Black

HB 1928: Visiting scholars

Sponsor: Rep. Brad Pollitt

HB 2132: Statewide assessments

Sponsor: Rep. Willard Haley

SB 660: Competency-based programs

Sponsor: Sen. Lauren Arthur

SB 647: Grievance process for parents, guardians

Sponsor: Sen. Andrew Koenig