HB 1858 passed the House 85-59 with some Republicans voting against the bill. It is now in the hands of the Senate Government Accountability and Fiscal Oversight (GAFO) Committee.
The controversial bill is a wide-encompassing piece of legislation that would, among other things, require schools receiving funding from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to be more transparent.
Other provisions include a requirement for schools to give parents access to teaching materials, give access to information regarding guest lectures and speakers, and allow parents to visit their child during school hours on the school’s campus.
Parents would be able to receive the relevant information from an online portal managed by DESE, as the bill is currently written.
Still other provisions would require schools to receive a parent’s written permission before the child can participate in any extracurricular activities or assemblies and regulate how school board meetings are conducted.
Schools found to have violated any of the rules could potentially lose funding from DESE until the issue is remedied. Parents and the Missouri attorney general would also be able to sue schools believed to be in violation of any of the regulations.
Republican Rep. Ben Baker, who is championing the bill, said it’s about “transparency in schools and empowering parents.”
Baker told The Missouri Times the bill would be a tool to combat the teaching of so-called critical race theory in public schools.
Although not a new topic, critical race theory has emerged as a hot-button issue for those on the right, particularly in the past year. Simply put, critical race theory is an academic and legal study of how racism has impacted the U.S. — from politics to culture and more. Some have pointed to lessons about racism or slavery in the U.S. in elementary or secondary education as falling under the critical race theory umbrella.
Other supporters see the bill as an opportunity for schools to be held accountable and for parents to take a larger role in educational decisions.
But it’s also garnered criticisms from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle; some have warned the bill will censor certain issues in school. Other critics argued the bill grants freedoms parents already have, calling it an attempt to solve problems that do not exist.
Democrats have said critical race theory teachings in K-12 schools is not actually prevalent.
A 2021 DESE report found only one school out of 400 surveyed admitted to utilizing critical race theory in its lessons. (The report has been challenged by conservative lawmakers.)
And GOP Rep. Mike Stephens of Bolivar worried the bill, as written, would give parents too much power in their child’s education. Ultimately, he voted against the measure in the House.
Changes are expected to be made to the bill in the Senate — but it’s down to the wire. Lawmakers have less than one month to send legislation to Gov. Mike Parson.