Reimagining Education

School choice legislation advances in Jefferson City!

Last week was a great week for the thousands of families across Missouri desperate for better educational options!

Last week 82 Missouri Representatives broke decades of union and lobbyist control of education policy in Missouri and cast historic votes to pass House Bill 349 which will create Missouri’s first-ever Empowerment Scholarship Account program.

Under HB349 families would receive scholarships of up to $6,000 that could be used for:

  • Tuition or fees at a qualified school
  • Textbooks required by a qualified school
  • Educational therapies or services from a licensed or accredited practitioner
  • Tutoring services
  • Curriculum
  • Tuition or fees for a private virtual school
  • Fees for testing
  • Services provided by a public school including, but not limited to, individual classes and extracurricular programs
  • Computer hardware or other technological devices that are used to help meet the qualified student’s educational needs
  • Fees for summer education programs and specialized after-school education
  • Transportation costs 

HB349 is also targeted at those who need it most, giving preference to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch or fro students who have special needs.

Unfortunately, getting enough votes to pass the bill required limiting its impact to students living in a county with a charter form of government or a city with a population of 30,000 or greater. While this limits the initial impact of the bill, there is a chance that it could still be modified to remove this requirement when it is considered in the Senate, or in future years after rural areas see how beneficial an ESA program could be for their students.

In addition to establishing the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, amendments to this bill also guarantee additional funding for traditional public schools by requiring that state school transportation funding be funded at at least a 40 percent level in order for the ESA program to start and continue and providing full state funding to local districts for five years for any student who leaves the district by using one of these scholarships.

Senate Bill 55

On the Senate side, Senate Bill 55 received its initial debate on the Senate floor, a debate that lasted for over 12 hours as Senators worked behind the scenes to secure votes and make changes to the initial legislation.

SB55 is an omnibus education bill designed to give parents more control over their children’s education and includes a number of great initiatives including creating an Empowerment Scholarship Account similar to the one proposed in HB349, expanding where charter schools can open, and ensuring that homeschooled students can participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their neighborhood district school.

Unfortunately, the bill was eventually set aside as that work continued, but we are hopeful that it could come up for another debate and vote as early as next week.

A number of changes were made to the omnibus education reform bill during the debate, including removing a provision that would give parents the final say on enrolling their children in virtual education, a provision that would have made it possible for communities to recall a school board member if they were not meeting the needs of the community and adding a provision (similar to HB349) that would tie an ESA program to the state funding school transportation at 40 percent.

Virtual education

While the fix to Missouri’s MOCAP law was removed from SB55, a standalone bill with similar language won approval this week from the House Education Committee.

HB 754 would give parents the final say in enrolling their students in MOCAP virtual education programs, preventing district administrators more focused on budgets than student success from blocking a family’s decision that virtual education is the best solution for their children.

The bill also would also require districts to notify parents of their right to access MOCAP programs at no charge, and charge districts $100 per day for every day they do not comply with the law.

A similar bill, SB 95, was passed out of the Senate Education Committee this week as well, but it is unclear when either bill will be heard on the floor of either chamber.

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