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Missouri Family E-News

March 4, 2014

                                    
House Panel Says No to Common Core Standards     

 

Legislation which would halt the implementation of Common Core educational standards in Missouri's public schools has been endorsed by a Missouri House committee.

 

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee has approved House Bill 1490, sponsored by Representative Kurt Bahr of O'Fallon.

 

If enacted by the General Assembly, Representative Bahr's bill would prohibit the State Board of Education or the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from implementing the Common Core State Standards.   

 

The effect of House Bill 1490 would be that the standards developed by the Common Core Standards Initiative could only be adopted in the State of Missouri with legislative approval.

 

"There are many reasons to be wary of Common Core," Bahr says.  "We need to put the brakes on its implementation and ensure all stakeholders have a chance to decide the best educational standards for our children."

 

"If we as a state want to adopt Common Core, then we should go through the process," Bahr adds.  "The Legislature should be making that decision, and we should not have been bypassed by the executive branch."

 

The State Board of Education embraced the Common Core initiative in August of 2009 when it voted to become a partner in adopting the Common Core standards for Missouri's public schools.

 

The Board's decision followed unilateral action by Governor Jay Nixon earlier that summer.  Nixon signed a memorandum of agreement with the National Governors Association "Center for Best Practices" committing Missouri to join the Common Core consortium.

 

Current plans are for the new standards to be implemented in Missouri school districts for the 2014-2015 school year. 

 

The push for nationwide adoption of the Common Core standards was led by the National Governors Association in concert with the Council of Chief State School Officers.   

 

James Shuls, director of education policy for the Show-Me Institute, says that adoption of Bahr's bill is necessary to retain local control of educational standards.

 

"This proposal is not an anti-standards bill," Shuls says.  "It's a bill that disputes the idea that a world-class education must come from a centrally-imposed standard."

 

The campaign for Common Core was propelled by a $35 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.     

 

Federal education officials have dismissed the concerns of Common Core opponents, saying they are misplaced or exaggerated.

 

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told one audience that opponents of Common Core were primarily "white suburban moms who--all of a sudden--discovered that their child isn't as bright as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."

 

Bills to block implementation of Common Core in Missouri have also been introduced in the Missouri Senate by Senator John Lamping of St. Louis County and Senator Ed Emery of Lamar.  Neither bill has yet been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee. 

 

You can let your state representative know what you think of House Bill 1490, Representative Bahr's bill, by clicking this link:

Your State Representative 

                                             

  

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House Committee Endorses Student Religious Liberty Bill

A Missouri House committee has approved legislation which would strengthen religious freedom protections for students enrolled in public schools.  The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee has endorsed House Bill 1303, the Student Religious Liberties Act, sponsored by Representative Elijah Haahr of Springfield.

The legislation would prohibit a public school district from discriminating against a student based on that student's religious viewpoint or religious expression.  Students would be free to express their religious values on any particular subject in the same manner that a secular viewpoint would be expressed.

"The Student Religious Liberties Act will make it clear that students do not set aside their religious freedoms when they walk through the schoolhouse door," Representative Haahr states.  "This legislation reaffirms the fact that it is not government's place to prevent religious expression but to ensure that all student viewpoints are treated equally."

The Springfield legislator's bill would make clear that students may participate in prayer groups, religious clubs, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after the school day "to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular activities and groups" of a nonreligious nature.

School districts would be required to provide student religious groups the same access to school facilities for their gatherings as school administrators provide for other noncurricular groups.   Religious clubs would be allowed to announce and advertise their activities to the same degree that secular clubs are allowed to do so.

The bill would guarantee that students "students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions."   Teachers would be required to evaluate a student's academic work based on its substance and relevance to the curriculum and requirements of the course, with no prejudice for the inclusion of relevant religious content.

Representative Haahr's proposal would also protect the right of students to wear clothing, accessories, and jewelry that contains religious messages or symbols, in the same manner and to the same extent other types of apparel and accessories are permitted.

School districts would also be required to establish what is known legally as a "limited public forum" at all functions at which students are given an opportunity to speak.  School officials would  be prohibited from discriminating against the voluntary expression of religious viewpoints in such settings.

The provisions of the bill make clear that school districts retain the authority to maintain order, discipline, and safety in school settings, and that religious expression may not be disruptive of scheduled instructional time or educational activities.

"If there's a 15-minute break between 3rd and 4th period and students want to organize a brief prayer or Bible study, that's something that is permissible,"  Representative Haahr explains.  "But sometimes schools are stopping those things from happening because they believe they are crossing a line.  All this does is codify what current case law says into statute."

Representative Haahr's bill amounts to enabling legislation for the Religious Liberty Amendment, approved by Missouri voters in the August 2012 statewide election.  That constitutional amendment, developed in large part by the Missouri Family Policy Council, was adopted by Missouri voters by a resounding margin of 83 to 17 percent.

That amendment wrote language into the Missouri Constitution guaranteeing students "the right to free exercise of religious expression without interference."  The Religious Liberty Amendment assured students the right to pray individually or corporately in public school settings so long as such religious expression was not disruptive and abided within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech.

The constitutional amendment also stipulated that "students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work."

As stated by Representative Haahr, his bill does not confer any new rights upon Missouri public school students, but simply delineates those rights which have been established by federal courts under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

While most public education authorities respect these freedoms, some public school teachers and administrators restrict those freedoms because of a misunderstanding of the application of the First Amendment in school settings.  They falsely presume that the constitutional theory of "the separation of church and state" requires that they forbid any form of prayer or religious expression in or out of the the classroom.

We commend Representative Haahr for his excellent leadership on this issue.  His bill, House Bill 1303, will be debated on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives in coming weeks.  We encourage you to contact your own state representative to urge them to vote for this important legislation.  You can do so by using this link:
Your State Representative


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