JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Democrats in the House filed several pieces on legislation they are touting as policies that will strengthen Missouri’s K-12 education system.
Led by House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, Democrats filed four bills that alter the school lunch system, charter school accountability, and the funding formula for public schools. One bill would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot seeking to ensure all Missourians have the right to an adequate and equitable education.
“Local public schools form the foundation of every Missouri community, and when that foundation cracks, the whole community feels it,” said Quade. “For our communities and state to thrive, we must strengthen the public education foundation and avoid policies that could cause it long-term harm.”
According to Quade, the package of legislation introduced on Tuesday is aimed at strengthening the public education system and ensuring local schools have the resources needed to successfully carry out the vital role of providing a quality education for every Missouri child.
One measure targets the practice of “food shaming.” HB 618 and HB 627 — sponsored by Reps. Raychel Proudie and Ian Mackey — would end the trend of shaming children whose parents are behind on their school lunch bill.
The bills would require schools to provide a lunch to any student who requests one, regardless of whether the student can pay for it or owes a debt for previous lunches. They also would prohibit schools from publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student who owes debt on meal or force a student to discard food due to inability to pay.
Mackey noted that the bills would require schools go through parents, instead of children, for any unpaid balances.
“Unfortunately, there are instances where our scholars are unable to get a meal, or are shamed with meals not fit for the condemned due to an inability to pay. No child deserves such treatment,” Proudie said. “There should be no child in the greatest state in the country, in the greatest country on Earth ought to be ostracized for needing a little grace.“
A key component to the legislative package is changes to charter school regulations.
HB 629, filed by Quade, would allow for the expansion of new charter schools only upon the approval of voters in the school district in which the new charter school is proposed.
HB 424, filed by Rep. Bruce Franks, would prohibit the sponsor of a substandard charter school from sponsoring another charter school. The bill also would require local voter approval to renew a school’s charter.
“The legislature imposed charter schools on Kansas City and St. Louis without giving local residents a say in the matter,” Quade said. “That is a mistake that can’t be repeated. If charter schools are an option a community wants, then they should have it, but only if clearly expressed at the ballot box and not dictated to them from on high.”
Another major issue Democrats are pushing is funding public schools. Rep. Kip Kendrick noted that the legislature altered the education formula a few years ago, which enables Republicans to say they are “fully funding” education.
The ranking member of the House Budget Committee also noted the state’s share of student transportation will remain $188 million underfunded under Gov. Mike Parson’s budget recommendation.
“No matter what some politicians say, Missouri isn’t meeting its obligations to adequately fund local public schools,” said Kendrick. “The more the state shortchanges student transportation costs, the more local districts have to take drastic measures, like going to a four-day school week, to make up the difference.”
HJR 26, filed by Rep. Judy Morgan, would raise the constitutional K-12 funding minimum from 25 percent to one-third of state revenue. If approved by the General Assembly, HJR 26 would go on the November 2020 ballot for voter approval.
“Although it is a longstanding practice to appropriate one-third of revenue for schools, education will be better protected with this standard set in the constitution,” Morgan said. “Plus, raising the constitutional bar on K-12 funding will give future lawmakers the incentive to exceed it, pushing education spending beyond the one-third that is currently standard.”
House Democrats expect to file additional bills supporting public education in the coming weeks.
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.