When it comes to educating students, Missouri has room for improvement—a lot of room.
U.S. News & World Report ranks Missouri 30th in the nation when it comes to how well the state is educating its students. We don’t know about you, but we’re not willing to accept average for this state.
Other studies show that for the first time in decades, nine-year-olds’ reading and math scores have dropped nationwide just in the last few years. These dismal rankings don’t mean that our students and teachers are average. But it does mean that Missouri needs to think carefully about priorities when it comes to education. If kids are struggling with math and reading, then 1-2-3s and A-B-Cs need to be the focus in the classroom—not C.R.T.
It means that we need to reorient our focus on preparing students for the future, not infusing lessons with politically trendy ideologies or shutting out parents.
There’s a package of legislation working its way through the Missouri General Assembly that would help prioritize learning over activism in the classroom, involve parents, and promote transparency.
Senate Bills 4, 42, and 89 have been combined to create a trifecta of reform that would ensure classrooms are places of learning—not political activism—and that schools are transparent to those whose taxes keep the doors open and who send their children there to learn.
This legislation is important for Missouri’s families and the state’s future for three reasons.
For one, it protects the civil rights of students, teachers, and parents.
Divisive theories on race, gender, and sexuality are increasingly seeping their way into classrooms. It’s one thing for students to be taught about different ideas—it’s another for students to be compelled to adopt them as their own, especially when they may run counter to deeply held convictions. This legislation protects school employees, students, and teachers from having to personally adopt or profess a position that runs contrary to their individual beliefs and protects the right of all to opt out of lessons that indoctrinate students.
This legislation also includes a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that protects the rights of parents to know what is going on within the four walls of their child’s school. It guarantees that parents will be able to receive information, upon request, on instructional materials their child are utilizing in the classroom, on third-party organizations contracted to conduct programs within the school, and on student activities and safety.
Secondly, while this reform protects the consciences and rights of teachers, parents, and students, it does not do so at the expense of education. In fact, it brings critical thinking—not critical race theory—into greater focus. The legislation specifically prohibits the teaching of ideas that say one race is superior or inferior to another—but doesn’t prohibit the teaching of historical realities. It protects the rights of students to learn about the important history of African Americans, Native Americans, and women, and the concepts of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, discrimination, segregation, and more.
It also extends requirements for a civics training program. Missouri students are already required to study the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions extensively—this takes a step further by requiring that students read important texts like the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence, as well as take lessons important to participating in our republic—like understanding the different levels of government, the Bill of Rights, and the importance of free and open discourse.
This legislation won’t bind teachers—but it will keep activism out of classrooms, protect the civil rights of students, and better prepare them for citizenship after they’ve graduated.
And finally, this legislation prioritizes transparency. Taxpayers and parents deserve to know what is going on in public schools. We demand—and have access to—information about how local governments spend our money and how they’re operating, and it only makes sense that we would do the same for the institutions that are educating children.
The bill requires the state commissioner of education to establish the Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal, which will provide the public with access to school curricula, school board members and their contact information, teacher and staff professional development materials, financial transactions, debts, and information on third-party organizations contracted to work or teach within the school.
This package of legislation is a great opportunity for the Show Me State to lead the nation in education reform. Other states like Arkansas and Florida have enacted similar measures, either through legislation or executive action, but none have been as sweeping and consequential as this one right here in Missouri.
Missouri’s school system is both the foundation and the hope of the future of the state. It will keep classrooms for learning—not political activism—and make sure kids go to school in an environment that is safe, transparent, and academically engaging.
We applaud the Senators who introduced this legislation—Senators Andrew Koenig, Rick Brattin, and Ben Brown—as well as the leadership of Senate Majority Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin for prioritizing the bill and call upon the Missouri legislature to pass SBs 4, 42, and 89.
Sarah Coffey, a Missouri native, and Eric Bledsoe are visiting fellows at the Opportunity Solutions Project.