Senator Jeanie Riddle – Senate Bill 638 Signed Into Law

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JEFFERSON CITY — State Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County, commended the governor’s signing of Senate Bill 638, which enacts multiple provisions regarding Missouri elementary and secondary education. The bill, whSenatorich was sponsored by Sen. Riddle and signed into law on June 22, seeks to improve the standards of American civics knowledge, establish guidelines for screening students for dyslexia, and authorizes the expansion of the A+ Schools Program, among other measures.

“I am happy the governor has signed this important education bill into law,” Sen. Riddle said.  “This legislation will enact multiple provisions within our elementary and secondary schools that will better enable and support Missouri students’ ability to succeed.”

The main provision contained within the bill, and the original purpose of the bill, is the enactment of the “Missouri Civics Education Initiative,” which will require high school students to achieve a passing grade on a test similar to the civics portion of the naturalization test given to immigrants looking to gain U.S. citizenship. All students entering ninth grade after July 1, 2017, attending a public, charter or private school in Missouri must take and pass the exam, and the 100-question test can be retaken as many times as needed prior to graduation. The Initiative will also authorize school districts to allow students to participate in the Constitution Project of the Missouri Supreme Court for school credit.  This project encourages schools to send teams to compete in a simulation involving the fields of journalism, crime scene investigation and trial advocacy.

“Our students should have a comprehensive, basic understanding of our country’s history and how our government works,” said Sen. Riddle.  “By making this test a part of high school students’ graduation requirements, it should encourage them to take responsibility to comprehend and retain the information they are already being taught and prove they understand it just like we require immigrants to do when they become U.S. citizens.”

Also included in the bill is an act authorizing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop guidelines for the accurate and appropriate screening of students for dyslexia and other related learning disorders. The goal of this measure is to better detect and support Missouri schoolchildren affected by this type of disorder, which can hinder abilities like reading comprehension, writing and even speech. The provision also creates the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia, a 20-person team comprised of legislators, the commissioner of education and other members appointed by the House and Senate leaders, which will research and make recommendations for a statewide system for the identification, intervention and delivery of support for students with dyslexia.

“Research shows around 80 percent of people with reading difficulties likely suffer some form of dyslexia, meaning as much as 5-10 percent of the population could be affected,” Sen. Riddle said. “Senate Bill 638 will help Missouri better find and support the students in our state who are struggling against this disorder so they can achieve the full academic and personal successes of which they are capable.

The bill will also authorize the expansion of the “A+ Schools Program,” which provides scholarship funds to eligible students of A+ designated high schools attending certain public community colleges, vocational schools or private two-year technical schools.  Currently, A+ designated high schools can only be public schools, though the expansion contained in SB 638 allows private schools to also apply to be designated as an A+ school for the purpose of letting their students apply for the program’s scholarship.

Unless stated otherwise, bills passed and signed from the 2016 session will go into effect on August 28th.  For more information and a complete listing of the measures contained within SB 638, please click the following link: Senate Bill 638 Summary.