Ann Kelley's Capital Connection

August 22, 2023

What’s Going on in the Capitol

Dozens of new laws are set to take effect at the end of August, with the work of the Missouri Legislature in the 2023 legislative session finally coming to fruition. Several new laws and provisions are set to become law on August 28, ranging from tax relief for senior citizens, extending healthcare coverages, removing financial barriers in the adoption process, combatting the opioid epidemic, simplifying the state’s vehicle sales tax, increasing public safety, and preparing Missouri’s workforce for the future. Here is a look at some of the bills passed this session.

Improving Education and Addressing Teacher Shortages

This year, Missouri’s legislature continued pushing for more funding and changes aimed at improving the educational status in the Show-Me State. The state has once again fully funded the K-12 Foundation Formula for the fifth year in a row, securing $3.6 billion in state aid, alongside $233 million for school transportation.

The legislature has also made moves to address the issue of teacher shortages and the salaries paid to those in charge of educating our children. Some school districts are facing shortages of qualified educators, and in an effort to keep teacher pay competitive, Missouri has fully funded the Teacher Baseline Salary Grant Program, which increases baseline K-12 educator pay to $38,000 per year. In addition to that, the state has put aside $32 million for the Career Ladder program to reward educators who go beyond normal duties.

The Missouri General Assembly passed legislation that would also enable K-12 schools to hire more retired teachers longer under SB 75. Under current law, retired teachers can only return for two years, and school districts can hire no more than 5 retired teachers or 10 percent of their teaching staff, whichever is smaller. SB 75 will extend the limit from two years to four, and would revive a retirement allowance for teachers who have served 31 years or more, allowing them to receive 2.55 percent of their previous salary multiplied by their years of service.

Health Class Gets a New Name and Expanding Adult High Schools

HB 447 would rename the half-credit health class that is required for all Missouri high school students to a course focused on “health and family education.” Under HB 447, Missouri’s education department is required to create a working group of educators, state employees and nonprofits to develop standards for the course with “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.” In addition to that, HB 447 also establishes requirements for the State Board of Education to adopt and implement standards in regards to the current one-half credit hour of health education, with the course renaming starting with the 2024-2025 school year.

The bill also transfers the requirement for operating four adult high schools across the state from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to the Department of Social Services. As such, the Department of Social Services will further expand the program to include a fifth adult high school, furthering the mission of ensuring that all Missourians are given the access they need to a good, quality education.

More Tools to Aid in Development for Hard of Hearing Children

HB 447 would also bring Missouri in line with more than 20 other states in regards to education provisions and resources regarding deaf and hard of hearing children. The legislation, called “LEAD-K” or “language equality and acquisition for deaf kids” seeks to give parents of children living with hearing issues some much needed resources to address the tendencies which some deaf and hard of hearing children have with delayed language acquisition. Because there is no standard process for assessing children with hearing issues under the age of five, this often means that these children arrive in kindergarten not knowing as many words as they should at that age. By passing this bill, we can help provide more resources to parents, and ensure that these children are starting kindergarten with a foundational knowledge of either English or American Sign Language.

Offering an Elective Social Studies Course on the Bible

SB 34, passed by the Missouri Legislature this year, would allow Missouri school districts and charter schools to offer a new elective social studies course focusing on Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible. The course will focus on the content of the texts, as well as their history, literary style and influence. Schools could not require students to limit themselves to a specific translation of the texts and would have to maintain “religious neutrality.” The goal of offering such a course is to provide knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives in an effort to give context and understanding of contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy through the lens of the scriptures.

Protecting Vulnerable Information of Children and Victims of Domestic Violence

SB 28 serves to protect Missouri’s most vulnerable in a variety of manners. SB 28 provides an easy avenue forward for the victims of domestic violence or abuse in the event that they need their birth certificate. This legislation waives any required fees for the issuance or copy of a birth certificate if a victim of domestic violence or abuse makes the request and if the victim provides documentation signed by an employee, agent, or volunteer of a victim service provider, attorney, or health care or mental health professional.

This new law also protects children’s private and identifiable information. Under this act, any personally identifiable information regarding any child receiving childcare from a provider or applying for or receiving any services through a state program shall not be subject to disclosure, except as described in the act.

SB 40 also modifies provisions relating to background checks as they relate to minors. High schools in Missouri that offer on-campus career development classes to both students and adults will now have a layer of protection for minors included. SB 40 requires that anyone over the age of 18 enrolled in a course on school property who is not a regular attendee of the school must get a full background check. This only applies to classes in which K-12 students are present. The background checks will be processed through the Missouri Highway Patrol and the discovery of any crimes or offenses that would cause a license to teach to be revoked or not issued would cause that person to be prohibited from enrolling in the course. At every level of the education system, from district superintendents to teachers to maintenance to food service, all workers that are in contact with children have to submit to background checks. This new law now requires adults on-site for educational purposes to receive the same verification.