Editor’s note: By July 7, 2023, Gov. Mike Parson had signed into law all of the education bills approved by the legislature this year, with the exception of portions of the education budget.
It may become easier for retired teachers to return to the classroom for longer, for public schools to offer elective courses on the Bible, and for certain medical professionals to get help paying for education — if Gov. Mike Parson signs the related bills into law.
Missouri lawmakers filed at least 140 education bills before the 2023 legislative session began in January. Amid a legislative session once again marked by infighting, most of those bills stalled. But a few of the ideas for changing education reached Parson’s desk and may soon be signed into law.
Lawmakers also want to ban student athletes who are transgender from competing on school teams that don’t match the sex they were assigned at birth.
Since the legislature adjourned on May 12, Parson has until July 14 to sign or veto the legislation. If he doesn’t act, it automatically becomes law. The legislature could override a veto with a two-thirds majority.
The following are some of the education bills the governor will consider signing.
Education bills on teaching the Bible and renaming health class
Sen. Karla May, a Democrat who represents parts of the St. Louis area, sponsored Senate Bill 34. The SB 34 text addresses the value of such instruction, saying that “knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives … are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.”
Under the SB 34 proposal, school districts and charter schools could offer an elective social studies course focusing on Hebrew scriptures, as well as the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible. The course could focus on the content of the texts, as well as their history, literary style and influence. Schools couldn’t require students to limit themselves to a specific translation of the texts and would have to maintain “religious neutrality.”
Under a different bill, health class would get a new name. House Bill 447, sponsored by Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic, would rename the half-credit health class required for high school students statewide as “health and family education.” The proposal would also require Missouri’s education department to create a working group of educators, state employees and nonprofits to develop standards for the course. The working group should have “an emphasis on behavioral health relating to the causes of morbidity and mortality of youth, chronic disease management, and parenting skills associated with optimal family health over a lifetime,” the bill states.
Addressing staffing shortages with retired teachers
K-12 schools would be able to hire more retired teachers for longer under Senate Bill 75.
School districts facing shortages of qualified educators can allow retired teachers to return to the classroom without losing their benefits. But under current law, those teachers can only return for two years, and districts can hire no more than five retired teachers or 10% of teaching staff, whichever is smaller.
SB 75 would extend the limit of retired teachers’ classroom return to four years. Each district could hire five retired teachers or the equivalent of 1% of its total staff, including those who are not certified, whichever number is greater.
Kansas City Public Schools and local charter school teachers fall under a retirement system that is separate from the state’s main system for educators. The bill would also allow retired teachers in the Kansas City Public School Retirement System to return for up to four years, and it would expand the number who can return at one time from 15 to 30.
The same proposal also revives a retirement allowance for long-serving teachers that expired in 2014. Those who teach for 31 years or more can receive 2.55% of their previous salary multiplied by their years of service.
The bill also allows retired teachers who opted to receive reduced payments and named a same-sex domestic partner as a beneficiary to receive the regular payment amount if the relationship has ended and they would like to remove the beneficiary.
Bills encouraging professional education in specific areas
Three separate approved bills, including Senate Bill 157 sponsored by Sen. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, would create a loan forgiveness program for health, mental health and public health professionals who work in underserved areas for at least two years.
The new program would replace one that applied specifically to doctors and placed caps on the number of loans available.
A similar loan forgiveness program for large animal veterinary students would expand under Senate Bill 138, sponsored by Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola. If signed by the governor, the proposal would double the number of recipients from six to 12 and increase the maximum award amount.
Another proposal, Senate Bill 186 — sponsored by Sen. Justin Brown, R-Rolla, creates a tuition reimbursement fund for police officers who take required training to receive their license and are then employed in Missouri for at least one year.
Banning K-12 and college transgender athletes from teams
Senate Bill 39, sponsored by Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, prohibits transgender student athletes from playing on sports teams that don’t align with the sex they were assigned at birth. The proposal applies to public and private schools at both the K-12 and higher education levels.
If the bill becomes law, schools that don’t comply could lose state funding and be subject to lawsuits from students or their guardians.
Under the bill, any student could still participate in male-designated sports if it’s the only option.
Requiring background checks for older students
Under Senate Bill 40, another proposal from Thompson Rehder, adults who are 18 or older and not enrolled as high school students would have to pass a background check before taking a class on public school property while K-12 students are present.
‘School choice’ bills fail
Despite being a popular topic of sponsored legislation, school choice bills that would make it easier for families to send children outside their local school district — to charter schools, private schools or neighboring districts — failed to advance. A proposal sponsored by Rep. Brad Politt, R–Sedalia, that would have allowed students to transfer to neighboring districts, House Bill 253, was approved by the House but not the Senate.
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