If Mike Parson and Republicans are ‘pro-life,’ why is Missouri school funding 49th?

As a seasoned professional educator, I am accustomed to national and state level lawmakers seeking control of my curriculum and holding the school’s budget hostage to pass legislation that fulfills their personal agenda. Before the Missouri General Assembly finally passed the federal reimbursement allowance tax critical to Medicaid funding on June 30, these lawmakers once again threatened education and other key areas, because the bill’s language wasn’t “pro-life” enough. But to support life is to support education.

Quality education is the core to a thriving economy and a footpath to success for our future generations. But for ultraconservative states such as Missouri, legislation is going back in time. Gov. Mike Parson’s declaration that “all life has value and is worth protecting” does not match his actions. In May 2019, Parson issued a response to the state’s extreme right-wing Republicans’ decision to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, after only eight weeks of pregnancy. Parson said: “By signing this bill … we are sending a strong signal to the nation that, in Missouri, we stand for life, protect women’s health, and advocate for the unborn. All life has value and is worth protecting.”

Missouri is a state that invests little in child care and education. Nicole Galloway, Parson’s 2020 Democratic challenger in the gubernatorial race and current state auditor released data in May showing Missouri ranks 49th in the nation for state school funding. Every life may have value, but not every child will receive the opportunity for a quality education.

Missouri lawmakers have put forth an infrastructure plan that would leave the state’s education system in shambles. On May 6, Missouri passed a bill for a tax credit program to pay for students to attend private schools. Under the bill, privileged donors contribute money to nonprofits that fund scholarships, school tuition, transportation, extra tutoring and other education-related expenses — in other words, a limited school voucher system.

There is a finite number of top-performing private schools in rural areas. This begs the question: Who benefits from the voucher system? Parents and students should have access to the best education, but considering our pathetic ranking in school funding from state resources, what could public schools accomplish if lawmakers fully funded them?

In August 2020, Missouri voters decided to expand Medicaid. As a progressive living in a red state, I was elated and surprised by this decision. We were heading in the direction toward valuing life — until the GOP ignited a war on not only health care access for low-income individuals, but also on Planned Parenthood, contraceptives and education.

When lawmakers voted to fund Medicaid last month, it was not without resistance from the GOP. State Rep. Nick Schroer, who was behind the 2019 abortion ban, told The Missouri Times, “I am incredibly disheartened and disappointed in the (state) Senate neglecting to uphold their promise to Missourians that they will protect life at all levels.” Republican lawmakers stand proud for taking a defiant stance defending the lives of the unborn. Maybe if they fought this hard for funding education, the state would not be in such an inauspicious position.

In contrast to the state’s current policies, providing education and access to free birth control to women, specifically in low-income areas, would substantially reduce abortions and unplanned pregnancies. Colorado’s abortion rates have plummeted after it offered free IUDs and easier access to birth control pills (and the state expanded Medicaid). Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likewise shows that the rate of abortions has dropped significantly since Roe v. Wade and since access to contraceptive and education has been widely available.

I agree with Gov. Parson: All life has value and is worth protecting. But I also believe our unborn and our children deserve better than what we are giving them. Missouri is sending a strong message, but not the message that supports life.

Kayla Branstetter is from Purdy, Missouri, where she taught secondary English for 10 years before transitioning into higher education.

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