Passed bill may reshape school choice

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program sent to Gov. Parson

House Bill 349 will create the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, creating a tax credit that can be claimed for any qualifying contribution to an educational assistance organization.

This will begin on July 1, 2021, if it is signed into law.

The bill was pre-filed on Dec. 7, 2020, and passed by the State House on Feb. 25 and the Senate on May 6. It now awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Parson to become law.

A student may qualify to receive the grant to be deposited to their Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Account, to cover tuition fees, if they reside in Missouri, have an individualized education plan, or has attended public school as specified in the bill, attending school for the first time, or entering kindergarten or first grade. Tuitions are renewable annually.

Proponents of the bill state that a parentís opportunity to choose their childís education is a right. So, using the educational scholarship to supplement tuition is the help needed to make that choice. Allowing a choice in education to best suite the studentís needs in the form of easily picking a different school district could be beneficial.

However, those who oppose House Bill 349 say it could drain more than $500 million from general revenue over the course of 10 years. This issue is significant when the state has other obligations such as transportation costs and withholdings that are not being met.

The scholarship money could be used toward private school tuition, tutoring, transportation and more.

The program would be restricted to only include municipalities and counties with more than 30,000 residents, which would prevent some rural districts from benefiting, and only 10 nonprofits could operate each year.

The bill would also allow for families who own property and have paid $3,000 in school taxes in a district outside of their home district for at least three years to send their child to a public school in that area.

For example, if a family owns property in Cassville for three years and pays taxes to the school district, but live in and attend Exeter school district, their children would be able to attend Cassville schools even though they do not live in that district.

The bill also includes a reimbursement provision. This would allow school districts to be reimbursed for the loss of state aid for students who left their district due to this tax credit program. This reimbursement would only last five years in total, after loss of aid.

According to state legislation, the School Administrators Coalition is adamantly opposed to the bill for a number of reasons, one being the bill permits discrimination against students based on disability, gender and religion.

But, most noted in the opposition is the decreased financial resources needed for public schools, including transportation and public placement funds.

People are reminded that they can reach out to Gov. Parsonís office to have their opinions heard.

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