Several bills seek to attract more teachers, staff

Staffing shortages in schools across the state have prompted a slew of bills aimed at mobilizing more teachers and staff to fill vacancies.

The House Committee on Elementary-Secondary Education heard HB 1998, sponsored by Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic, which would allow local school districts to issue local education licenses for up to 15% of their faculty.

The districts would set the requirements, which must include a background check, professional development, a mentorship program and a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. The permit would only apply in the district that issued it.

Davidson said the bill is not just about addressing the teacher shortage, but also about making teaching a viable second or third career option for professionals.

Representative Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, said there was already a professional licensing system.

“There’s a system that’s used, and sometimes we make stuff just to make stuff,” Black said, adding that the licensing system in place was easier.

The Missouri State Teachers Association opposed the bill, saying it was not the role of local districts to set standards for certifying teachers. The Missouri National Education Association also testified in opposition, saying there are already many alternative certification paths.

HB 1881, sponsored by Black, would change retirement rules to combat a shortage of teachers.

Currently, a retired teacher can continue to receive his pension and resume teaching for up to two years in schools in shortage. This bill would extend that period to four years.

He said this would not only apply to teaching, but could also apply to other positions, such as bus drivers.

Several organizations testified in support of the bill.

HB 1928, sponsored by Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, would expand the Visiting Scholars Program to allow people with experience in certain subjects to temporarily teach those subjects in school districts without going through the process of standard certification.

His bill also garnered support from educational organizations.

While methods of addressing staffing shortages were top priorities, the House and Senate Education Committees also discussed other bills.

Rep. Willard Haley, R-Eldon, sponsored HB 2132, which would prevent statewide assessments from including statements or questions that promote concepts that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or gender or that an individual’s race or gender is oppressive or objectionable to others,” he said.

Haley said the bill is a preventative measure because he is not aware of any statements or questions in current assessments that would be contrary to his bill.

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, said, “I have a lot of concerns, mostly just because we’re creating a law for something that doesn’t exist.”

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, asked Haley to respond to her comments.

“The premise of this is to make sure that we don’t discriminate or differentiate because that’s some kind of weakness in our society,” she suggested.

“Yeah, I’m okay with that,” Haley said. “I think we just have to accept each other as equals and move on, and it seems like we continue to have a divide between different races and different genders.”

Nurrenbern said she came to the conclusion that “the color-blind approach is not the right approach.”

“It’s really our diversity that is our strength,” said Nurrenbern.

Nurrenbern said she sees the bill as legislation looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, added that 26 other states are considering similar legislation.

The Missouri NEA spoke out against the bill. One of the concerns was the use of the word “concept”, which she felt was too vague.

Sharon Jones of the Missouri State Conference NAACP and Promo also testified in opposition, specifically discussing point nine of the bill, which would prevent questions or statements about testing that could promote the concept that “slavery and racism, as they relate to American values, are anything other than deviations, betrayals, or breaches of the genuine founding principles of the United States, which include freedom and equality.”

Jones said that under the Founding Fathers, slavery was enshrined in the original constitution, and the constitution stated that people of color were not full citizens of the country, which could be discussed at a historical assessment.

“Would you be able to ask that question during a statewide assessment? I don’t think you would,” she said.

Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic, said he didn’t think that would preclude the inclusion of this question.

Jones said she was concerned that the people creating the test would avoid the topic altogether out of caution.

On the Senate side, the education committee discussed two bills: SB 660, sponsored by Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, and SB 647, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester.

Arthur’s Bill would create several programs that:

• Enable students to graduate sooner and direct their district aid toward a higher education savings account

• Provide grants for the creation of competency-based education programs.

• Create a task force to study competency-based programs and report findings to legislative officials.

• Allow districts to receive funding for competency-based courses

The bill defines “competency-based” learning as learning that allows students to progress at their own pace after demonstrating mastery of a subject and possibly graduating early.

Koenig’s bill would allow parents to file a formal objection to school policies or practices if they are not required by state law. The school board must respond to the response within 30 days. If the board rejects the parents’ objection, they can appeal to the Department of Primary and Secondary Education within 15 days.

The bill would also allow parents to receive either $1,500, or the equivalent of local property taxes they paid the previous year, to use for education expenses if their district did not meet the requirements. .

Other senators wondered if there should be a process outlined in the bill before bringing an issue to the school board. Representatives from the Missouri State Conference NAACP, Promo, the Missouri Association of School Administrators and the American Federation of Teachers in Missouri spoke in opposition.

HB 1998: Teaching license

Sponsor: Rep. Bishop Davidson

HB 1881: Public Schools Pension System

Sponsor: Rep. Rusty Black

HB 1928: Guest Researchers

Sponsor: Rep. Brad Pollitt

HB 2132: Statewide Assessments

Sponsor: Representative Willard Haley

SB 660: Competency-Based Programs

Sponsor: Senator Lauren Arthur

SB 647: Grievance Process for Parents, Guardians

Sponsor: Senator Andrew Koenig

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