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Women senators promote childhood literacy, seek community input on bipartisan tour

  

Jefferson City, Mo. — All 11 of Missouri’s women in the upper chamber, both Republican and Democrat, have taken one message on tour this summer — “You Can, Too!”

The catchphrase has served the dual purpose of a message to young readers as well as the title of the book the eleven senators wrote together in 2021. “You Can, Too!” encourages childhood reading and chronicles the stories of all 36 women who have found themself holding office in the Missouri Senate.

Currently, there are more woman senators holding office than ever before, with 11 of the state’s 36 female senators that have ever served currently in the Senate. That number may soon increase to 38, pending general election results in Senate Districts 22 and 32.

The cover of “You Can Too!” a book written by the 11 women serving in the Missouri Senate. The book encourages childhood literacy and chronicles the stories of all 36 women who have served in the Senate. (Courtesy of the Missouri Senate)

Now, the senators are on tour, stopping in each of the 11 Senate Districts the legislators represent. They’re touring in part to promote their new book, but also to explore ways to encourage early childhood literacy in Missouri and bring possible legislative solutions.

Apparently, it all started with the book.

“It started when we were all working on the book,” Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Ozark County, said. “Working together in that way — it became a bond.”

As the lawmakers worked on their book, they started thinking of ways to continue its message of childhood reading and inspiration to chase one’s dreams.

“We started thinking, maybe we should do something with this,” Eslinger said.

Now the legislators are on a bipartisan tour to connect with constituents about how to best promote childhood literacy. The senators have talked to teachers, parents and many other stakeholders to find out what they can do at a policy-making level to increase childhood literacy in Missouri.

“We’ve all come together to impact education and the low literacy rate,” Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis City said. “We’re going around and bringing in partners and teachers … we’re finding out what we can do to impact literacy in Missouri.”

Sen. Karla Eslinger on the Senate floor in Jefferson City on Feb. 23. (Provided)

“We always want to reflect on our communities’ needs,” Eslinger said of the tour. “We want to get a little time to have an open discussion about what we can do to make sure all our children are reading.”

Eslinger said that no clear legislative initiatives have been outlined yet, stating that the senators want to allow all opportunities for input during the tour to be exhausted before a plan is put in place.

The senators will compile information throughout the tour and meet later in October to discuss policy decisions, May said.

The bipartisanship of the effort is a sight to marvel at in an increasingly contentious political climate. In Missouri, the contention has gone so far as to start squabbles inside of party lines in the Republican supermajority.

Not only have all 11 senators put their names on the same tour, they are actually touring together. At a tour event in West Plains on Monday, for example, Republican senators Jeanie Riddle (Audrain County), Sandy Crawford (Dallas County), and Eslinger teamed up with Democratic Sen. Barbara Washington of Jackson County.

May sees the women in the Senate coming together in an attempt to fix a problem as a sign of leadership.

“This group of women have decided to lead,” May said. “It has nothing to do with Ds and Rs … this is a problem that we can fix.”

Karla May, May
Sen. Karla May on the Senate floor in Jefferson City on April 29, 2020. (Provided)

The tour has been a way for the legislators to see flaws in policy regarding childhood literacy and will help the senators to avoid oversight in their legislative solutions, May said.

“We’ve heard how these policies aren’t really working at a ground level,” May said. “We have to be thinking critically about what the purpose of this legislation is.”

As the 11 senators continue their tour through the Show Me State, May expects the bipartisan group to have no problems when it comes to finding solutions.

“We have found a sweet spot where we can work together to achieve something great,” she said.

The next stop on the tour will be in Sen. Crawford’s district, taking place on Tuesday at the Buffalo Historical Society in Buffalo, Mo. at 11:30 a.m.

Featured Image: Eight women who previously served in the Missouri Senate pose for a group photograph along with 10 of the 11 currently serving female senators. (Courtesy of the Missouri Senate)