Schools in Missouri risk losing funding under new anti-bullying bill

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Missouri – A legislative proposal in Missouri has ignited a debate over how to effectively combat bullying in schools without compromising essential funding. Introduced by Representative John Black, a Republican from Marshfield, the proposed bill targets school districts that fail to report incidents of bullying. Under the bill’s terms, any district found negligent in this regard would see a significant penalty: a 10% reduction in its funding.

Navigating the Fight Against Bullying

The rationale behind the bill is clear. Representative Black aims to enhance the enforcement of anti-bullying laws, which he believes are currently insufficient to prevent bullying across Missouri schools. “There are a lot of laws already on the books that try to keep bullying from occurring,” Black stated. “But the laws that we have on the books right now don’t seem to be effective in some cases.”

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However, this approach has drawn sharp criticism from some quarters, particularly due to the financial repercussions for schools. Democratic Representative Marlene Terry of St. Louis voiced concerns over the proposed funding cut. “What stuck out to me at first was that 10%,” Terry remarked, highlighting the ongoing struggle to secure adequate funding and salary increases for schools and teachers. Terry advocates for relying on existing expulsion policies as a deterrent against bullying rather than imposing financial penalties on schools.

Representative Kathy Steinhoff, a Democrat from Columbia with 34 years of teaching experience, echoed Terry’s concerns. Steinhoff, who has also been an active member of the National Education Association, believes the bill’s penalty provisions are overly punitive. “You cannot control behavior, but you can certainly attempt to guide students,” Steinhoff said, emphasizing the importance of educating and guiding students rather than resorting to financial penalties.

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An interesting aspect of the bill is its proposal to expand the legal definition of bullying to specifically include the use of racially offensive epithets. Black recounted an incident where students bullied a classmate with racial abuse, leading to property damage and physical violence. He argued for explicitly including such behavior in the bullying definition to ensure clarity and accountability.

However, this proposal has sparked further debate. Republican Representative Ben Baker from Neosho questioned the broadness of the definition and who would determine what constitutes offensive language.

As discussions continue, Representative Black remains open to revising the bill, signaling a potential for compromise and the development of effective anti-bullying legislation. The bill’s progression underscores the legislative interest in fostering safe educational environments for Missouri’s children, balancing the need for decisive action against bullying with the imperative to support schools’ financial and educational priorities.

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