With just four weeks to go in Missouri’s legislative session, our Senators and Representatives are hard at work debating legislation that could have long-term consequences for all Missourians. Many of these bills have had the benefit of long committee hearings, with many folks traveling from around the state to speak with their legislators about the potential impact of their lives. But, at least one piece of legislation that is currently looming large didn’t go through that important piece of scrutiny– and that’s because it was amended onto budget bills on the House floor, with no committee discussion or oversight. This language reads:
No funds shall be expended for staffing, vendors, consultants, or programs associated with “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion,” or “Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging,” or any other initiative which similarly promotes: 1) the preferential treatment of any individual or group of individuals based upon race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, national origin, or ancestry; 2) the concept that disparities are necessarily tied to oppression; 3) collective guilt ideologies; 4) intersectional or divisive identity activism; or, 5) the limiting of freedom of conscience, thought, or speech. This does not prohibit the department from following federal and state employment and anti-discrimination laws.
In summary, this language would prevent any state funding from being used for DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs. As many of our partners have brought up, there are a number of practical issues with this language that would significantly undermine the operations of many state agencies. From our partners at the Missouri Budget Project:
“Multiple programs and services offered in Missouri are either required by their accrediting bodies to incorporate the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion into their programs, or are specifically designed to ameliorate longstanding disparities in health and economic outcomes. The budget language would jeopardize licensing and accreditation of programs critical to both the wellbeing of Missourians and our state’s economic competitiveness by placing billions of dollars at risk. For instance:
- Many nonprofit child welfare organizations, health and mental health service providers, and others with whom Missouri contracts to provide services are required through their national accrediting organizations to provide programming that incorporates diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition to risks to accreditation, failure to meet those standards could result in the loss of federal funding as well as private funding from foundations.
- Similarly, the national bodies accrediting professional education programs like those for teachers, social workers, psychiatrists, nurses and other health professionals are also required to incorporate training in diversity, equity and inclusion. Not only would the added budget language jeopardize the accreditation of these programs at Missouri’s public colleges and universities, but the licensure of new professionals could be at risk.”
But even setting aside the practical concerns that would certainly jeopardize many critical state programs, Empower Missouri believes that we should also oppose this language for another key reason. Poverty in our state isn’t evenly distributed. Black and Latinx families across Missouri struggle with poverty at disproportionately high rates- 19.3 percent of Black families and 17 percent of Latinx families live in poverty, compared to just eight percent of white families. This is no accident. Decades of racist policies have created an environment that has trapped tens of thousands of families of color in an unrelenting cycle of poverty. Banning the state from investing in programs related to diversity, equity, and inclusion would have two devastating effects.
First, it would prevent state agencies from teaching their staff about these historical policies that have created current disparities in income, educational attainment, home ownership, health outcomes, and even life expectancy. For example, it is critical that every American is familiar with the practice of redlining that created racially divided communities and locked families of color out of the housing market in prosperous neighborhoods. This policy dictated three decades of housing policy; it is directly responsible for the enormous racial disparity in homeownership today. (Today’s home ownership rate for white families is 75% compared to an abysmal 45% for Black families in America.) Without understanding this historical context, how can we expect to remedy this problem and level the playing field when it comes to home ownership?
Second, it would prevent state agencies from implementing programs that are already designed to address inequities. For example, the state’s annual Vehicle Stops Report routinely demonstrates that there is significant racial bias in policing. Many police departments are attempting to remedy this bias through training programs for officers on racial profiling and implicit bias. If the DEI budget language was enacted, state-funded entities like the State Highway Patrol would no longer be able to engage officers in these critical trainings. It would also presumably gut Missouri’s Office of Equal Opportunity, including the workforce diversity and supplier diversity programs, both striving to make up for historical discrimination across the state and country.
Simply put, we can’t pursue a future where every Missourian has an equal opportunity to thrive without both understanding the policies that have created current disparities and investing in programs specifically designed to ameliorate past harm. We implore the Senate to remove this language from the bills during the budget review process and to encourage DEI programs rather than forbidding them.