March 22, 2021
Published: March 22, 2021
After a week-long Legislative “Spring Break”, the legislative session resumed this week. Our legislators are presently at the “midpoint” of the legislative session. There are several legislative discussions on the move pertaining to public education that have received significant attention this spring. Many of the topics within the bills could be added as amendments to other legislation that is further along in the process. There are many bills presently being discussed, however I have selected five below to highlight:
House Bill 2 is a budget bill for elementary and secondary education. This bill should be heard this week in the House Budget Committee. The Governor’s recommendations for HB 2 were as follows:
- $8.5 million to ensure full funding of the K-12 funding formula at a total of $3.56 billion;
- $8.4 million for early childhood special education;
- $4.4 million to develop a comprehensive literacy program using federal grant funds;
- $13 million for the A+ Schools scholarship program; and
- No recommendation to increase funding for school transportation
House Bill 37 makes changes to existing statute regarding immunization requirements. This bill removes private, parochial, or parish schools from immunization requirements, and instead applies immunization requirements to just public schools. The bill allows a student to attend school if he or she can provide evidence of acquired immunity. The bill clarifies that a student at a public school can attend school by submitting a written religious or conscientious belief statement or submitting a religious or conscientious belief exemption form developed by the Department. The bill also states that for purposes of child abuse, “abuse” and “neglect” does not include a decision to not immunize a child. The bill adds conscientious belief as a legal reason for refusing to vaccinate a child and, therefore, it cannot be a contributing factor for a finding of abuse or neglect. The bill has been heard in the House Health and Mental Health Policy Committee. No vote has yet been taken on this bill.
House Bill 137 is the charter school funding bill. It seeks to give a greater percentage of local funding to charter schools. Even though charter schools are currently limited to Kansas City and St. Louis, this language would pertain to any school district that has a charter school open within its boundaries. The bill has been voted out of the House Budget Committee and a House Rules Committee. This bill may be taken up for debate at any time.
House Bill 494 is the MSHSAA/Homeschool student participation bill. This bill specifies that a school district shall not receive funding under the foundation formula if the district is a member of any statewide activities association (MSHSAA) that prohibits a homeschool student from participating in any event or activity offered by the school district, or requires a homeschool student to attend the public school for any portion of a school day, except that homeschool students may be required to attend one class if the class is directly related to the event or activity. DESE is required to withhold payments to districts in violation of this bill until such district proves to the State Board of Education that the school district has ceased membership in the organization. Under this language, homeschool students would not be required to adhere to the same basic requirements that public school students have to adhere to (i.e., be enrolled in and passing 80% of their courses, be a creditable citizen, and attend classes on the day of activity, etc.). This bill has been voted out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and is awaiting a hearing in a House Rules Committee.
House Bill 543 would establish an open enrollment program in Missouri. While this bill allows districts to decide whether they want to participate in the open enrollment program, it should be noted that nothing in the bill precludes a student from leaving their resident district. For example, if a district decides not to participate in the open enrollment program, that does not mean that a student is restricted from leaving to attend a neighboring district that is accepting students under the open enrollment program. Thus, every school district can be impacted by this bill. This bill is expected to be brought back to the floor for a new “perfection” vote this week. Once that occurs, the bill will be sent to the Senate and await a referral to a Senate committee.Please note: I only selected 5 bills to summarize. If any of the bills selected or other bills concern you, please engage with one of our legislators or contact me. The legislators who represent a portion of the St. James R-I School District are senators Mike Bernskoetter and Justin Brown and representatives Bruce Sassman and Jason Chipman. If you would like more information about any bill, you may access the Senate site at www.senate.mo.gov/legislation/ or the House of Representatives site at www.house.mo.gov/BillList.aspx.