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Bill to Bar Educators From Political Activity Withdrawn by Missouri Senator

A bill introduced by a Missouri state senator that would have ultimately barred educators in that state from contributing to political campaigns has been withdrawn, after the legislation triggered a less-than-friendly reaction.

The now-dead measure, introduced by Sen. Will Kraus and pre-filed for the 2014 legislative session on Dec. 2, was an attempt to stop teachers and other K-12 and higher education officials from using public resourcesfor advocacy and campaign work, according to Kraus, a Republican. He also told a Missouri TV station, KMBC, that the bill was "a starting point," and that he felt he could work in a bipartisan manner to ultimately produce legislation that addressed the issue.

In many instances, fights over union's political clout deal with how people think union dues should and should not be used in terms of influencing policy and politics. But the language of what was initially tagged as Senate Bill 576 appeared to go beyond concerns about public resources being used for political campaigns. And the bill would have had a broad reach, since it wouldn't have affected just teachers, but other K-12 employees and school board officials as well. 

Here's the relevant language in the bill: "No officer, employee or agent of any school district, public school, school board, or public institution of higher education shall make any contribution or expenditure to advocate, support, or oppose any legislation, ballot measure, or candidate for public office."

The bill also states that teachers and other public school officials are banned from making an "expenditure of public funds" for political work, but there's no clear definition of "public expenditures." 

The reaction was swift and harsh. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, indicated that the bill could have been "more artfully drafted." And Andrea Flinders, the president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers, told the TV station, "What it does is silence the voices of the people that work with children."

There's a lot of tension in Missouri education politics. Some education officials are stepping up pressure on state education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, saying she should resign in the wake of emails revealing her plans for restructuring the Kansas City school system. (Flinders is quoted again in the piece for another TV station.) Nicastro also took some heat recently over allegations that she provided improper aid to a group seeking to end teacher tenure through a 2014 ballot initiative, although she has denied that she acted unethically, and the president of the state board of education has defended Nicastro's actions in that situation. (The story began with emails obtained by the National Education Association's Missouri affiliate describing Nicastro's interactions with the group pushing the initiative.)

It will be interesting to see if Kraus or another legislator makes another effort to try to limit educators' political power in some way.

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