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Missouri teachers association opposes open enrollment and bill restricting teaching about race

Lawmakers walk up the steps of the Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Lawmakers walk up the steps of the Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Jefferson City.

Over 100 educators gathered in Jefferson City to voice opposition to Missouri bills that would allow public districts and charter schools to open enrollment to nonresidents, and a "Parent's Bill of Rights" that would ban schools from teaching diversity-related concepts and "critical race theory."

The Missouri State Teachers Association is opposing legislation addressing two of Missouri Republicans’ education priorities — open enrollment and a Parents Bill of Rights.

The association voiced its opposition to the bills during the group’s visit to the Capitol on Tuesday. More than 100 educators gathered in Jefferson City for the event.

Lobbyist Mike Wood said the organization is concerned about the open enrollment bill voted out of the Senate Education and Workforce Development committee Tuesday morning as well as a similar bill in the House.

“What you will hear in the hallways about open enrollment is that it is a voluntary program, districts do not have to participate in the program. That is true for accepting kids. But it is not true for kids leaving your district going to another district,” Wood said.

Wood said the loss of students in some smaller school districts could lead to consolidation of districts.

Valerie Hunt, a teacher at Windsor High School in Henry County, said that legislation would harm smaller districts.

“The students that are left in those districts, the resources would dwindle, because that's how funding works. It would become haves versus have nots,” Hunt said.

The association is also campaigning against a Parents Bill of Rights, which is set to be heard in the Missouri Senate soon.

Wood said while they are not opposed to parents having information about what is going on in their child’s classroom, the penalty provisions within the bill mean that districts will submit “more than enough information” to avoid jeopardizing state aid.

“And that's going to hurt you guys. Because you're going to spend your time trying to defend what you're teaching, as opposed to actually preparing and doing the teaching,” Wood said.

Brittney Ghidoni, who teaches high school English in Gallatin, said everything she does and teaches is open to her parents.

“We obviously want to have full communication. I do feel like that would take away from the planning and teaching of what actually matters with us just having to submit a bunch of stuff and fill deadlines,” Ghidoni said.

Proponents of the measure said it gives parents access to information they need about their children’s education.

During Tuesday’s gathering, members also heard from Gov. Mike Parson as well as Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Parson spoke on some of the education priorities he mentioned during his State of the State address, including funding additional dollars to the Career Ladder Program, which gives raises to experienced teachers for doing extra work. He also spoke on his priority of investing in daycare.

“You're like everybody else, you have kids. You've got to be able to take care of those kids too,” Parson said. And to keep good school teachers in a school setting and doing what it is you're trained to do, then I got to make sure you can go to work.”

Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre and Sens. Karla Eslinger, R-Osceola and Doug Beck, D-Affton, also spoke at the assembly.

Henderson said he believed that though there are differing views on education, teachers have the respect of lawmakers in Jefferson City.

“You do make a difference when you go door to door and talk to those individuals. They want to hear from you and we need to hear from you,” Henderson said.

Beck said while he supports Parson’s budget regarding education, a lot of bills are micromanaging or taking away local control for schools.

“There's so many other things out there that are coming after our teachers. And at a time when we have a critical shortage of teachers, we can't let this happen,” Beck said.
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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