JEFFERSON CITY—Missouri Republicans gave initial approval Tuesday to legislation that says parents have a right to see the curriculum used in their child’s classroom.
The so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights” measures now awaits a final vote in the House and, if passed, an uncertain future in the Senate.
It marks the latest example of Republicans stoking culture wars in the midst of an election cycle by forcing votes on divisive issues, including abortion, transgender rights and race sensitivity training.
Democrats decried the GOP effort.
“The truth is, it’s really a phantom problem. It’s misleading,” said Rep. David Smith, D-Columbia. “This is really part of a national strategy by a group of people to get them laughed up and get them to the polls. It’s a page out of a political strategy book. It’s unfortunate so many people have been misled.”
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The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, attempts to guarantee access to classroom “instructional materials.” Various amendments proposed by Republicans touched on limiting the teaching of critical race theory.
“We are responding to the concerns of our constituents,” Baker said.
The proposal comes as groups like No Left Turn in Education worked during the April 5 election to elect school board members who will look more favorably on limiting the teaching of racial equity and transgender rights.
School board campaigns across the St. Louis region were marked by a conservative push against pandemic-related mask and quarantine policies, that then broadened to oppose diversity and equity programs and books with racial and gender themes.
Baker, a pastor and former dean of students at Ozark Bible Institute, said the legislation could address concerns that students are being indoctrinated against their parents’ wishes.
“Some of the things that are happening, we have to address that,” Baker said.
Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, said the legislation is among the most important facing lawmakers this year.
Bailey claimed school districts are “grooming their children to be sex addicts” by allowing them to read certain books. She said school administrators are trying to hide their activities from parents.
“They think we’re racists, bigots,” Bailey said.
Under the legislation, parents could sue a school district if they believed the district knowingly violated the statute.
Republican lawmakers, all of whom are up for reelection in the House in November, flooded the Legislature with similar proposals. Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for US Senate, also proposed his own version.
Many of the provisions are already in law in some form, including the right to review curricula, books and instructional materials.
The legislation also would give parents the right to visit school during school hours with restrictions.
Rep. Paula Brown, a Hazelwood Democrat and former school teacher, said most of the legislation is already found in state law.
“I find that redundant,” Brown said.
Other Democrats said the Legislature should allow local school districts to do their jobs without state interference.
“I actually trust the teachers who serve my children. I believe parents already have a bill of rights,” said Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit.
Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, said Republicans like Rep. Nick Schroer, who is running for a seat in the Senate in St. Charles County, are attempting to limit the teaching of history.
“There is no collective, agreed-upon history of anything,” Adams said. “You are a master of generating conflict.”
Black lawmakers said the GOP efforts were needlessly divisive.
“We’re not doing justice for the children back home,” said Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis.
The legislation is House Bill 1858.