Missouri public school teachers educate their students on civics and the workings of government, but those same teachers aren’t allowed to participate in governing the state.
Missouri is one of four states where active public school teachers cannot also serve in their state legislature, according to a review of National Conference of State Legislatures data by Education Week.
There has been a rise in political activism and candidacies among teachers following successful strikes for increased education funding in West Virginia, Arizona and elsewhere.
The Missouri Constitution, however, blocks any public employee from also holding elected statewide office. Fourteen other states have a similar law, according to NCSL, but the majority have exemptions for teachers. Missouri does not.
Wentzville Republican Bryan Spencer taught two decades for Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County before being elected to the legislature in 2012.
He challenged the district’s decision to not grant him an unpaid leave of absence to serve in the House of Representative. He lost that appeal. Now he’s an unpaid part-time teacher at a private school and an adjunct college professor, in addition to representing his House district.
“By me being not a has-been, but in the troops currently, I can reflect the voice of the people currently in the trenches,” said Spencer, who is a member of the education committee.
Spencer teaches in the fall semester at Liberty Christian Academy in Wright City.
Teaching in the spring would be difficult for Spencer or any other active teacher because the General Assembly is also in session.
The Missouri State Teachers Association, the union representing teachers in more rural parts of the state, has ramped up its efforts to get more teachers involved in politics. The association recently started a campaign school, according to Matt Michelson, the union’s government relations manager.
“Teachers make great candidates,” he said. “They’re well-spoken, they’re well-respected in their community. They deal with conflict many times on a weekly, if not daily, basis.”
There are a number of former educators in state government. NCSL estimated in 2015 that 10 percent of the Missouri General Assembly had prior careers in education.
“I think some of that lack of having an active educator has been filled with some of the recent retirees who have gone on to serve in the Senate and the House,” Michelson said.
Missouri lawmakers voted in their last session to add a teacher to the state school board as a non-voting member. Gov. Mike Parson is expected to name that teacher later this year.
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