(The Lion) — As the fate of a House-passed open enrollment bill is with the Senate, one Missouri lawmaker remains in hot water over his reversal on the issue.
Missouri Rep. Chris Lonsdale, R-Liberty, took heat in March for voting against HB 253 – a bill that would allow public school students to enroll in schools outside of their residential districts – after promising during his election campaign to support it and other school choice measures.
Lonsdale was one of three Republican House lawmakers who pledged support for school choice in a survey last year and yet voted against the open enrollment bill. The others were Sherri Gallick, R-Belton, and Donny Brown, R-New Madrid, according to Jean Evans, Missouri state lead for American Federation for Children (AFC), which distributed the survey.
Disappointment over Lonsdale’s nay vote spilled over onto Twitter, as previously reported by The Lion.
Political strategist Gregg Keller, who tweeted the screenshots of Lonsdale’s survey, spoke to The Lion about the lawmaker’s reversal.
“Lonsdale told voters he supported open enrollment: it’s literally there in black-and-white in his own hand,” Keller said in March. “Then he flip-flopped and voted against it.”
Last week, AFC ran an ad in Lonsdale’s district, criticizing the lawmaker for “going back on his word.”
“The purpose of the ad is to alert voters that Lonsdale has not kept his word in supporting parents,” Evans told The Lion.
Indeed, Lonsdale, who won his seat in November unopposed, said last week he already faces an opponent in the 2024 general election.
It’s to be expected, Keller says.
“Education freedom and school choice are conservative Republican litmus test issues now, along with pro-life, Second Amendment, and tax cuts,” Keller told The Lion on Monday. “Candidates who go back on their word to voters on these issues, as Rep. Lonsdale did on school choice, can expect all kinds of headaches as a result, including hard-fought campaigns.”
The Lion sought comment from Lonsdale by phone and email last month and again on Friday to learn more about his reversal, what he was hearing from constituents on the issue, and why he deleted a tweet with his public statement on opposition to open enrollment. Messages went unanswered.
In the now-deleted tweet from Feb. 28, Lonsdale gave reasons for his opposition. The Lion obtained a cached version of the tweet and accompanying statement.
“I will be voting in the best interest of my district and voting NO on HB 253,” Lonsdale tweeted. “Liberty purposefully taxes ourselves at a much higher rate to fund our school district. It’s not fair for neighboring districts to take advantage of our investments and infrastructure.”
Notably, HB 253 actually allows school districts to opt out of receiving open enrollment students.
Lonsdale’s tweet included a screenshot of his “full statement,” in which the lawmaker claims the bill would be “a great disservice to the many families who have made their livelihoods in my district,” also citing the “duties and responsibilities of elected state representatives.” He also writes of his willingness “to meet with any person who wishes to discuss an issue.”
However, a Sunshine Law request for correspondence on the bill to and from Lonsdale from Jan 1. to Mar. 31 only surfaced five emails that appear to be from constituents – three for and one against HB 253, and another which expressed general disapproval of open enrollment.
Specifically, The Lion requested communications with the terms “open enrollment,” “House Bill 253,” or “HB 253.”
“I am 100% opposed to open enrollment,” Lonsdale wrote in a Feb. 24 email to an individual. “I feel like there is little to no benefit for our school district and a lot of potential downsides.”
In reply to a constituent who accuses him of being “in the pocket of the teachers union” over his wavering school choice views, Lonsdale called his decision to oppose HB 253 a “tough” one, suggesting that lobbyist support for the bill somehow turned him against it.
“This was a tough decision but I made it knowing that lobbyists and several organizations would come after me,” he writes. “I did not make this decision lightly.”
He then describes seeing the “multitude of Lobbyists pushing this” at the Capitol, naming the American Federation of Children, concluding vaguely, “Something doesn’t smell right to me.”
While Lonsdale is clearly now opposed to open enrollment, it remains unclear whether he has also withdrawn his support for the three other school choice issues he signed his name to in the AFC survey during his campaign: charter schools, charter school funding equity and education savings accounts.
As for HB 253, the Senate has until May 12 to take action before the legislative session ends.