Missouri lawmakers heard another set of bills promising a "Parents' Bill of Rights" on Wednesday in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.
Bill sponsors sought to include last session's input in their bills by rolling in amendments added on the floor last year before the bills passed out of the House.
HB 627, sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, enumerates the rights of Missouri parents, including the right to know when a criminal offense is committed on school property or against one's child, to see what is in school curriculum, to direct the education of their children, and to access district performance and financial data.
Unlike in previous iterations, Christofanelli's bill this year is a statutory change, rather than a constitutional amendment, which he said was a point of contention previously. His bill also does not contain penalty provisions, he said, meaning that resolving a violation would require civil action.
Chairman Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, said he had some concerns about a parent's right to "direct" the education of their child, as outlined in the bill, questioning whether the word could be construed to give a parent complete control.
Christofanelli said he was open to discussing a different word choice, but said that he did not think "direct" could be construed as an "individual and unilateral veto power" for each parent, but rather that it meant to supervise or guide.
Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, said the bill contains one provision that makes it "unworkable."
The bill gives parents the right to opt their children out of the classroom for any presentation of content with which they disagree "if the parent of such child provides for an alternative location and safe and secure supervision during the time that such contested content is being presented."
Lewis said that's an impossible task for most working parents and that the job should fall to the schools.
Christofanelli said the line had been added in a previous year as a floor amendment and that he would be open to modifying it.
Lawmakers also expressed concerns about what they saw as a mammoth task required by the bill: making all curricula available online prior to the start of the semester.
Christofanelli said the curricula would not need to be detailed, but rather a "top-level summary."
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, contains a similar list of parental rights, with the addition of a right to visit the school to check on their child. Baker's bill did contain penalty provisions.
"If a court finds that the school district or public school has knowingly engaged in multiple or repeated violations of this section, the department of elementary and secondary education shall withhold all moneys provided by monthly distribution of state formula funding to such school district or public school until such school district or public school is in compliance with this section," the bill reads. Once the district shows they are in compliance, the withheld funding will be restored, the bill states.
HB 482 was heard alongside Christofanelli's bill.
Speaking in favor were the Missouri Baptist Convention, the Missouri Century Foundation and the Opportunity Solutions Project.
Timothy Faber of the MBC said the legislation could be viewed as a "blanket sunshine request" on behalf of Missouri parents, giving them access to school information and what their children are being taught.
The Missouri National Education Association, current and former teachers and the Missouri Equity Education Partnership, among others, spoke against the bill, saying it could have a chilling effect on teachers who are already wary of teaching on potentially controversial subjects.
The committee also heard HB 232, sponsored by Rep. Gretchen Bangert, D-Florissant, which would require cursive instruction in elementary schools.