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Missouri Legislature considers bills allowing guns in colleges and restricting teaching about racism

University of Missouri - Kansas City

Missouri legislators have pre-filed bills tweaking state financial aid programs, allowing concealed carry weapons on campuses, and prohibiting transgender women from playing on female sports teams.

Expanding state financial aid programs, banning COVID-19 vaccine requirements on campus, and restricting lessons about racism and sexism are just some of the topics of higher education laws being proposed in the Missouri legislature.

The next legislative session starts Jan. 5, but representatives and senators are already filing the proposed laws that they will debate during the first months of 2022.

There’s no guarantee that any of these bills will be heard in a committee, much less discussed by the full House or Senate or signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson. Legislation can also be amended, sometimes dramatically, at several stages in the process.

But we’ve compiled a list of some of the higher education proposals that have already been filed so you can get a sense of what’s on legislators’ minds.

If you have strong opinions on these issues, you can contact your representative or senator.

Expanding Missouri’s A+ Scholarship Program impact

When considering the sheer number of bills, how students pay for college in Missouri is one of the most popular higher education topics. Legislators from both parties want to tweak the way the A+ Scholarship Program is administered. The program provides free community college to Missouri high school graduates who complete 50 hours of mentoring younger students and meet other requirements.

Rep. Brenda Shields, a Republican from St. Joseph, filed legislation (HB 1723) that would allow A+ students who graduated with an associate degree or equivalent without using more than $10,000 of A+ funds to use the remaining dollars toward earning a bachelor’s degree.

For example, a student from the Kansas City area who is eligible for the “in-district” tuition rate at Metropolitan Community College would pay $6,960 in tuition for the 60 credit hours needed for an associate degree, plus fees, and so might have funding left over.

Rep. Kevin Windham, a Democrat from Hillsdale in St. Louis County, filed several bills allowing students to receive multiple types of financial aid at the same time.

For example, currently a student could complete the volunteer work for A+ but not receive any funds from the program because they later receive a Federal Pell Grant covering their education costs.

Windham’s legislation (HB 1786) would either provide students some funding on top of federal awards or (HB 1790) apply A+ dollars to education costs before other state, private and federal funding.

Expanding Access Missouri scholarships

The Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program is available to students whose family can contribute $12,000 or less annually, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Windham is also proposing expanding Access Missouri’s impact.

Windham filed legislation that would remove requirements for Access Missouri scholarships to be reduced (HB 1784) by the amount of any A+ scholarships received, expand the number of semesters (HB 1788) a student can receive Access Missouri money and increase award amounts (HB 1787) for the program.

Windham also wants to require the state to report data on the demographics (HB 1785) of state scholarship recipients and to prohibit colleges and universities from withholding transcripts (HB 1789) because of unpaid tuition bills.

Bills on nontraditional college students and loans

Other financial aid legislation includes a bill sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Springfield Republican, to extend the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant program for nontraditional students and allow it to cover apprenticeship costs (SB 672).

Sen. Bill White, a Republican from Joplin, filed a bill to expand state loan programs (SB 757) for health care students by increasing both the maximum loan amounts and professions eligible.

Finally, Rep. Alan Gray, a Democrat from Black Jack in St. Louis County, wants to require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to propose a pilot program called Pay Forward, Pay Back (HB 1822).

The program would provide free college tuition to students in exchange for a binding agreement that they pay back a percentage of their salary for a specific number of years.

Race and gender training in higher education, sports participation

Rep. Ann Kelley, a Republican from Lamar, proposed legislation that would prohibit any public school, including a college or university, from requiring “gender or sexual diversity training or counseling.” Required trainings could not include race or sex stereotyping or bias.

The proposal also would prohibit college and university employees (HB 1484) from including a number of concepts in their courses, including:

  • That one race or sex is superior or morally better.
  • That people are unconsciously racist or biased by virtue of their race or sex.
  • That the concepts of “meritocracy” or “strong work ethic” are racist or sexist or were created to oppress another race.
  • That people should feel psychological distress, such as discomfort, anguish or guilt, because of their race or gender. 

Sen. Mike Moon, an Ash Grove Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit students who were assigned male at birth from participating in school sports teams for women or girls (SB 781). This would preclude transgender women from playing on women’s or girls’ sports teams.

The bill would apply to colleges and universities as well as to middle and high schools and would include private schools that compete against public ones.

COVID-19 vaccination requirements on Missouri campuses

Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican from O’Fallon, submitted a proposal that would prohibit any university that receives public funding from requiring COVID-19 vaccination or “gene therapy” (HB 1475) as a condition of admission, employment or being physically present at activities or facilities.

The University of Missouri System, which covers four campuses including the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Missouri-Columbia, recently stopped enforcing a federal vaccine rule that covered faculty, staff and student employees. It still requires vaccines for health care workers and students who have contact with patients.

Guns on college property

Those with the proper permits could bring concealed weapons onto public college and university campuses under this proposal by Rep. Chuck Basye, a Republican from Rocheport.

Currently, UM System regulations prohibit carrying firearms on campus in most cases. The policy was recently updated and does not prohibit guns stored in vehicles.

The legislation would allow higher education institutions to implement some policies related to firearms, but not if they generally prohibit carrying, operating or storing concealed firearms on campus. Colleges and universities couldn’t impose taxes, fees or contractual provisions (HB 1751) that disallow or discourage lawful firearms.

Higher education governance

The UM System Board of Curators and other public university governing bodies could add voting student members (HB 1795) under a bill proposed by Windham, the Hillsdale Democrat.

Currently, a nonvoting student representative serves on the Board of Curators. Students at UM System universities would get to vote whether to begin having student curators or to retain the system of having nonvoting representatives.

Student curators would be appointed by the governor like other curators and would have the same powers and responsibilities.

Abortion tax

Rep. Mike Haffner, a Republican from Pleasant Hill, is sponsoring a bill (HB 1874) that would tax the endowmentof any university that is affiliated with an abortion facility, offers medical residencies or fellowships that provide training on performing abortions, or supports facilities where abortions are performed when the life of the mother isn’t in danger.

Freedom of the press for students

Students would have the right to freedom of speech and of the press (HB 1668) in school-sponsored media under a proposal sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, a Republican from St. Peters.

The proposal would apply to public colleges and universities as well as high schools.

Colleges and universities could still encourage students to use “professional standards of English and journalism.”

Colleges couldn’t discipline students for exercising freedom of expression unless they publish material that is libelous or slanderous, violates the law, violates privacy, is an incitement to commit a crime, or is likely to disrupt the operation of the institution.

Media advisors cannot be fired or disciplined for refusing to violate students’ rights. Schools and employees also can’t be held liable for school publications unless they actively participated in creating the content.

Currently, student journalists do not have freedom of the press in school-sponsored media, according to a 1988 Supreme Court case involving a Missouri school district and students from Hazelwood South High School.

Advanced Placement course credit

A proposal by Rep. Chris Brown, a Kansas City Republican, would require public colleges and universities to give course credit (HB 1683) to students who score a 3 or higher on Advanced Placement tests.

This story was originally posted on the Kansas City Beacon.

Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.
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