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Missouri Senate passes legislation barring teaching of certain diversity-related concepts

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, addresses the Education and Workforce Development Committee regarding his bill to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, pictured in January, is the sponsor of the legislation the Senate passed 21-12 on Tuesday. The bill establishes a Parents' Bill of Rights.

The Missouri Senate on Tuesday passed a multifaceted education bill that includes barring the teaching of certain concepts that often have been cast under the umbrella term of critical race theory.

Democrats criticized the bill as limiting the teaching of history as it pertains to race and diversity.

“Education is the source of breaking down barriers of racism and discrimination. But when you put this into law, and codify this into law, you are preventing that education from taking place,” said Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis.

Senators voted 21-12 to pass the bill. It now goes to the Missouri House.

While the phrase critical race theory is not defined nor listed in the bill, the legislation does include several concepts that it says schools should not teach or compel teachers or students to adhere or adopt.

Those concepts include anything a reasonable person would see as violating the idea that “all citizens of the United States are equally entitled to the privileges of law and justice with the citizens of this state.”

Additionally, the bill prohibits teaching:

  • That individuals of any race, ethnicity, color or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.
  •  That individuals should be adversely or advantageously treated on the basis of individual race, ethnicity, color or national origin.
  •  That individuals, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, color or national origin, bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, has said his intent is not to bar the teaching of history.

“History should be taught. We need to teach about the Trail of Tears, slavery, all the flaws of history need to be taught in our schools. I think that's important, and there is nothing in this bill that would prohibit the teaching of history,” Koenig said.

The legislation says it should not “be construed as prohibiting” curriculum that teaches the topics of “sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, affirmative action, or racial discrimination, including topics related to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in religious and ethnic discrimination, sexism, racial oppression, segregation, and discrimination.”

The bill also requires schools to post on their website all books required for any students of the school.

Parents who believe their child’s teacher is in violation of the section would be able to file a complaint with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

If the State Board of Education agrees that a violation has occurred, the parents of the child in question would receive annual monetary compensation until the child turns 18. That money would go toward an education savings account.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates to have around 10 hearings a year in response to this section. Each hearing is expected to cost about $600.

New transparency requirements

The bill creates a Parents' Bill of Rights, which includes new requirements for school districts to disclose learning materials. It also establishes a new online portal.

Schools must allow parents to review or copy curriculum documents like instructional materials and books within two business days. It allows parents to access other information like details on guest lecturers, outside presenters and organizations receiving school contracts and funding.

The bill creates the Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal, where every school district would be required to submit curriculum information, source materials, textbooks and syllabi.

Other information would be available, including details regarding school boards, third-party programs offered to schools and basic salary information.

If a school knowingly violates this section of the bill, they would be subject to a penalty of no more than $25,000. That penalty would be waived if the school in question rectified the violation.

Koenig said he came up with the idea of that penalty.

“I felt like if we allowed a portal, but there was no teeth behind it, then some school districts might not comply,” Koenig said.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.