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St. Louis Public Schools pushes for more parent political involvement in Jeff City

Early Wednesday morning, a group of St. Louis Public Schools parents and supporters got on a bus to Jefferson City.

The group spent the day meeting with legislators in what district leaders say is a new push for political involvement.

This is the first time in recent memory that parents have gone to Jefferson City to advocate in this way, said school board member Toni Cousins.

St. Louis Public Schools parents, teachers and advocates file into the House chambers on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2021, at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.
Kate Grumke
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Schools parents, teachers and advocates are introduced from the House chambers on Wednesday at the state Capitol in Jefferson City.

“Oftentimes, others speak on behalf of what we are and who we are and what our needs are,” Cousins said. “But this is the opportunity for our voices to be heard and for them to hear firsthand from us.”

Before this legislative session, lawmakers prefiled more than 140 education bills, focused on such issues as curriculum and school funding.

“This piece, which is the advocacy piece, is kind of new this year,” said Emily Koeltzow, an SLPS parent and chair of the Parent Action Council. “We feel like St. Louis Public Schools has not always been well-represented from the parent perspective, and we want to make sure that they hear from us, that they know that we choose St. Louis Public Schools, that this is not a place that we're trapped.”

The group held a rally on the Capitol steps, holding signs saying, “Fully Fund St. Louis Public Schools” and “We Choose St. Louis Public Schools.”

The district’s board also formed a legislative advocacy committee in recent months, which is another effort to have more of an impact in Jefferson City, said Matt Davis, a board of education member and chair of the legislative committee.

“A lot of times, the people that are pushing things to affect St. Louis public schools aren't even from St. Louis,” Davis said. “So it's important for the parents to come up here, show their faces.”

But there are many parents that an effort like this leaves out, said Avis Funches, who has two children in elementary school in the district.

“It's difficult to come up here and have child care for your kids,” Funches said.

Still, parent involvement has become more of a priority recently, and that was made even easier with Zoom meetings during the pandemic, Funches said.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.