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A new proposal to help low-income families access schools of choice drew emotional testimony from parents in Jefferson City this week.
St. Louis area parent Tammie Jones told the Senate Ways and Means Committee that passage of SB 581 was literally a matter of life and death.
“This bill will be great for my sons,” she said. “They are not allowed to go to their neighboorhood school because we deal with gang affiliations and other things.
“This bill will help my sons stay alive just to get an education,” she added. “Give me the option to save my boys’ lives. Let them become productive students. Let them become productive members of the community. They can’t go to a public school without worrying that they will lose their lives. It is that serious.”
The proposed legislation, crafted by Senator Mike Cierpiot, would create the Show Me a Brighter Future Scholarship Fund, a tax-credit based fund administered by the state treasurer’s office that would be used to offer scholarships through the MOST 529 program for low-income students to attend a private school of their choice.
Parents and school leaders from across the state joined Jones in asking the state legislature to advance the bill.
Kansas City single mom Shantelai Pettit told the committee that she did not want her son to attend the same public schools that she had.
“I am a single mom due to my son’s father being murdered,” she said. “I want to provide him with all the options including private school to provide my son with the best education. In 2006 I graduated from one of the worst high schools in Missouri. During my time there I saw first hand how our poorest students, mainly minority, are given the short end of the stick. Fourteen years later I get to see how not much has changed. It has even gotten worse.
“I don’t want this for my son,” she added. “He already has enough stacked against him being black, being male, and from a single-parent household. My son needs school choice.”
Becki and Izzi Uccello, a mom and daughter from the Springfield area, shared their story of how access to a private school had been transformative for their family.
Becki has been a public school teacher for 23 years and has a son who is thriving in a public school, but her wheelchair-bound daughter found herself isolated from her fellow classmates when she attended a public school.
“Izzi is a highly social child,” said Uccello. “She loves people, she loves chatting, she benefits from learning with and from her peers. Continually being separated from her peers was taking its toll.”
“I am not anti-public school,” said Uccello. “That being said, the public school system failed our daughter. Thankfully the private school system includes her and encourages her success.”
St. Louis parent Carmen Ward talked about how her son had already benefited from school choice in a charter school but told the committee that more parents need better education options.
“The more parents I meet and the more stories I hear, the more I realize I am one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I found help. I found an answer for my son’s education. But not everyone is so lucky.
“In Missouri, if you can afford to move into the school district of your choice, or can afford to
pay tuition at the private school of your choice….you have options,” she added. “But what about the rest of us? Senate Bill 581 is an important first step toward giving more kids the relief they need. Working-class families, low-income families, and families of color have been waiting too long for a change.”
Kimberlee Gill of Summitt Christian Academy in Lees Summitt told the committee that creating a program to help more low-income students access educational options would benefit the entire state.
“Only the poor do not have access to school choice,” she pointed out.
Tyler McClay with the Missouri Catholic Conference noted that there were schools throughout the state with open seats that could help low-income students if the bill was passed.
Only three people, all lobbyists for the district school establishment, testified against the proposed legislation.
Misinformation in their testimony drew the ire of Ways and Means Committee Chair Andrew Koenig.
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