Stories of how Education Savings Accounts are helping families across the country are piling up, providing a mountain of evidence that these innovative programs give families and students hope and access to education paths that work for them.
But if the Missouri legislature authorized an ESA program during the 2018 session, what would it actually do for Missouri families?
While legislation for next year’s session will not be filed until Dec. 1 at the earliest, the bill considered by the legislature last year gives us a glimpse of what might be possible in the next session.
Last year’s bill, SB313, passed the Senate but ran out of time in the House at the end of the session.
SB313 offered Missouri residents an ESA program that would be limited to students with special needs, students in the foster care system and active military families.
Under the proposed bill, students who met those criteria, and had attended a public school for at least one semester in the previous year (or was entering kindergarten), would be able to apply for a state empowerment scholarship of up to $6,241 per year to help the family seek a variety of other educational opportunities including homeschooling, private schools or virtual education.
Families could also use the funding to employ a private tutor, pay for textbooks, pay fees for Advanced Placement exams, pay for specialized therapies, purchase computers needed for education, or pay for summer or after-school education programs.
Empowerment scholarship funds would be considered as non-taxable income, and any funds leftover at the end of the year would roll over to the following year, so families could save for expected expenses.
Imagine life in the Smith household. The Smiths have an amazing son, Johnny, who is the joy of the family. Johnny was diagnosed with autism when he was three.
Johnny was a very engaged and active learner when he was younger but, unfortunately, he has struggled in the traditional district school he has attended for the past three years. He parents have worked with the school to try to ensure Johnny gets the individual instruction that worked so well with him when he was younger, but they know the school does not have the resources to give Johhny the attention he needs to succeed.
Last year they decided to take on a part-time job to help cover the cost of a therapist for Johnny in the afternoons.
The Smiths know that if they could enroll Johnny in a school designed to serve students with special needs, a school where he would get much more individualized instruction, then they would see him really begin to excel in school, but they can’t afford to look at private schools and still continue to pay for his therapist.
If the Smiths had access to ESA funding in Missouri, then they could afford to do both, but without that funding, they are trapped with no options for improving Johnny’s future.
ESAs would give Missouri families like the Smiths the freedom to choose the mixture of schools and support that will work best for their children.
Last year’s ESA legislation would have gone a long way toward helping some of the state’s most disadvantaged students, but there are a number of improvements that could still be made to make the proposal even more effective and helpful to more Missouri families.
Check back next week to learn how the bill could be improved before it is considered in the 2018 session.