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Missouri Senate education panel hears ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’

by Anna Campbell | January 21, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

In the first hearing of the 2023 session for the Missouri Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, lawmakers once again brought forth bills to create a "Parents' Bill of Rights."

Such bills vary, but many contain provisions outlawing Critical Race Theory, guaranteeing parents' right to access curricula and object to materials they find inappropriate for their child, and requiring the creation of an online portal that provides access to schools' source materials.

On Wednesday, the committee heard Senate Bills 4 and 89, both of which create a "Parents' Bill of Rights," though their provisions differ slightly.

SB 4, sponsored by Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, outlaws CRT and gives parents the right to view curriculum and be notified about incidents pertaining to their student's safety, among other provisions.

SB 89, sponsored by Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington, on the other hand, makes no mention of CRT, but adds to the list of parents' rights the right to object to materials being taught to their child and the right to visit their child at school.

Both bills would require the posting of curriculum and other information about a school district in an online "accountability portal."

"It has really pained me to watch the breakdown in trust that has occurred between many parents and the schools that their children attend," Brown said.

Members of the committee and witnesses were concerned the accountability portal provisions could create extra work for teachers.

"We know that teachers are loaded down already with every responsibility that they have. With this, what you're wanting to do, how much more would that be on teachers?" asked Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto.

Koenig said he would be willing to adjust the bill to limit the burden on teachers and added that he thought administrators, not teachers, would bear the brunt of any additional work.

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said she worried about some of the penalty provisions in Koenig's bill, including potential costs of millions of dollars on a first violation, and the chance of losing accreditation. She also thought the accountability portal might not be feasible.

"Missouri is sort of notorious or infamous for its difficulty in maintaining any sort of technological platforms ... this adds to that burden, correct?" she asked.

Koenig said he thought the Map Your Taxes site, a current accountability portal that shows how tax dollars are spent, functioned well.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft spoke before the committee, saying he appreciated the focus on transparency in the bills.

"If schools are doing what we all hope they're doing, they should appreciate transparency, because then people will know that they are doing what's right," Ashcroft said, adding that the burden of an accountability portal would fall on the state, not individual teachers.

Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability with the Show-Me Institute, said he supported the transparency provisions of the bills first and foremost. He said sometimes it is very difficult for people to obtain records through sunshine requests.

Heather Fleming of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership was opposed.

"This bill would ask teachers to teach isolated history facts divorced of context or critical thought, and I just want to stress the fact that the very definition of indoctrination is to present one idea and to ask kids ... to accept that idea uncritically," she said.

Rob Good of the Missouri Council for History Education also testified in opposition. Good said such bills promote the questioning of teachers' professional judgment and threaten the trust people have in them. He said it would contribute to the teacher shortage.

Several current high school students, parents, educational organizations and educators also spoke both for and against the bills during the two-hour hearing.

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