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Senate Education panel hears bill to move Missouri school board elections

by Anna Campbell | March 8, 2023 at 4:02 a.m.
A lone individual passes through an empty first floor rotunda Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at the Missouri Capitol.

A bill to move local school board elections to November instead of April could increase turnout in elections for influential local offices, supporters said.

But opponents of the bill said it could have unintended consequences.

Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington, presented SB 234 to the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday. SB 234 would shift elections for school board candidates to November. Currently, school board members are elected in April during the general municipal election and serve three-year terms. Under the bill, they would serve four-year terms.

"Decisions made by local school board members tend to be some of the most important and have some of the most direct impacts on our communities," Brown said. "From COVID-19 safety protocols, negotiations over school reopenings, and debates over how to teach about sensitive questions relating to race and American history, school board decisions have serious implications for the 90 percent of students who attend public schools and their families."

Yet those decision-makers are chosen by a small, non-representative section of the community, he said.

Moving the election to November would increase turnout and accountability for those candidates, he added.

The Missouri Century Foundation spoke in support of the bill.

Among those in opposition were the Missouri School Boards' Association, the Missouri National Education Association and North Kansas City Schools.

"I understand the point of the senator and wanting more voter turnout and those kind of things. I don't know how we legislate personal responsibility sometimes," said Shawn Rhoads, lobbyist for MSBA.

Otto Fajen of the Missouri NEA said changing the term structure could have consequences. Board members would have to serve an additional year and seven-member boards would be electing three members and four members alternating years. That means that every other year, a majority of the board could potentially be new members. Currently, with three-year terms, board members are elected two or three at a time.

Fajen added that local control bills could be one way to increase interest from the community in the school board.

The committee also heard a bill that would provide tax credits for tuition costs to allow children to attend a private school or public school outside of their resident district.

It also heard a pair of bills that would ensure that homeschooled students could participate in public school sports teams and activities. A number of homeschooled students testified in support, citing the benefits of participating on a team of peers and pointing out that their parents' tax dollars fund the schools.

Brown, sponsor of one of the bills, said his own experience with wrestling as a child helped prepare him for a successful life. When he began wrestling as a teenager, he lost every match, but he set a goal that he would become a state medalist by the time he finished high school.

"The lessons I learned working year-round, nonstop, going from nothing to being able to achieve that goal my senior year, I truly believe that set the model and made me who I am today," Brown said. "I think if it wasn't for that experience, I wouldn't have gone on to become a business owner, and I certainly would not be here as one of your colleagues and a fellow senator today."

SB 234: Moves school board elections to the November general election

Sponsor: Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington


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