Senator Holly Thompson Rehder's Legislative Column for March 7, 2023
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
A Second Chance at Education
At age 15, I had to quit school to help take care of my family. I didn’t want to quit school, but it was necessary for my mother and little sister. Soon thereafter, within months, I was married and pregnant. My dreams of returning to school were no longer in reach.
Eventually, I determined to get my GED. I found a local center with computers I could use to log into classes and continue my education. I studied when I could, stealing away over lunch breaks or during a short window of free time after my work shift. It was difficult, but I got it done. I got my GED and went onto earn a college degree as time and finances allowed.
By some estimates, there are more than 500,000 adult Missourians who never earned a high school diploma or equivalent. With a high school education being the bare minimum qualification for many jobs, and with our workforce shortage, it’s critically important that we help these adults complete their education. Not everyone is successful taking classes online, however. Fortunately, there is another option.
In 2017, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation authorizing adult high schools in Missouri. Under this law, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) could supervise up to four adult high schools, which would be operated by nonprofit organizations. The four schools were to be located in St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia and Poplar Bluff, though satellite campuses were also allowed. The schools would coordinate with community and business leaders to determine how best to meet workforce development needs while addressing the individual graduation requirements of students. Child care services would be provided onsite, and coursework could be provided through a mix of in-person and online classes, though the majority of classes would have to be in person. Upon completion of their studies, students receive an actual high school diploma, not a GED.
The program has been incredibly successful, with more than 700 Missourians earning a diploma at one of the four adult high schools. I personally know a young woman who earned her degree at the Poplar Bluff school and have seen the impact it’s had on her life.
This year, I have sponsored legislation to expand the program. Senate Bill 199 would authorize one more adult high school, which would serve students in the Kansas City area. The bill also transfers supervision of the program to the Department of Social Services (DSS), which has always supplied the funding. This week, I presented SB 199 to the General Laws Committee. We had a good hearing, with every witness testifying in support. My hope is we can get the bill moved out of committee quickly and onto the Senate floor for perfection.
In other legislative news, Senate Bill 127 is now before the House of Representatives. I originally sponsored this bill as a way of recognizing a beloved business and community leader from the Southeast Missouri region. Don Welge owned a private label food company in Chester, Ill., which is right across the Mississippi River from Perryville. A tireless champion for the region, Don was especially influential in the decision to replace the aging Highway 51 Bridge that connects the two states. My legislation was one half of a bi-state effort to dedicate “The Don Welge Memorial Bridge” in his honor. Similar legislation is currently moving through the Illinois General Assembly.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the Legislature, it’s that lawmakers love a highway-naming bill. There’s no shortage of notable people in Missouri who deserve recognition, and legislators are always on the lookout for a bill they can amend to honor local citizens. It looks like SB 127 is that bill this year.
In its current form, the bill includes more than 20 provisions, each establishing a memorial highway, bridge or historic district. There’s some really great people recognized in the bill, everything from military heroes, to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty to MoDOT employees who died while working on the state’s highways. Other Missourians inspiring special designations include a former legislator, an educator, a community founder and even a 6-year-old child who bravely battled cancer. The bill also establishes the “Stars and Stripes Historic Region of Missouri” in recognition of the legendary military news organization that began in Bloomfield. The historic region encompasses two dozen Southeast Missouri counties, including Bollinger, Madison, Perry, Reynolds and Scott. It’s a great bill, and I’m proud to have a part in moving it forward. I’m confident we’ll get it to the governor’s desk before the end of session.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.