The Missouri general assembly recently passed landmark legislation that will create the state’s first private school choice program. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) would provide families with up to $6,300 in scholarship funds that could be used to pay for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and a wide variety of other education-related costs.
While we are still waiting for Gov. Mike Parson to sign this legislation into law, (please feel free to reach out to Gov. Parson to encourage him to sign the bill into law as soon as possible) many families across the state are eager to find out how and if they will qualify for an ESA when the new law goes into effect.
The ESA program created by HB349 is designed to help the students most in need of educational options and as a result limits those who would qualify to receive a scholarship both based on where they live and several student characteristics.
The legislation is designed to help students in Missouri’s most populous regions, with the hope that as the program shows success it will be expanded to other areas of the state in future years.
Initially, only students living in a county with a charter form of government (St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, and Jackson County) or in a city with a population greater than 30,000 (St. Louis City, Blue Springs, Wentzville, Saint Peters, O’Fallon, Cape Girardeau, Saint Charles, Columbia, Springfield, Lee’s Summit, Liberty, Kansas City, Jefferson City, Wildwood, Oakville, University City, Florissant, Chesterfield, St. Joseph, and Joplin) will qualify to apply for an ESA scholarship.
This geographic restriction is based on residency, so it is worth pointing out that if a student living in one of these regions receives an ESA they will not be required to use the scholarship to pay tuition to a school in one of these locations. They would be able to use the scholarship funds to pay for tuition at any school in Missouri that they choose.
HB349 is also intended to help the students most in need of better educational options and so is limited based on a student’s special needs and household income.
In order to qualify for an ESA, a student needs to either have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a household income of no more than 200 percent of what would qualify the student for the federal free and reduced lunch program.
Under the ESA legislation, scholarships would first be distributed to students with an IEP or a household income at 100 percent of the free and reduced lunch rate, and then if there is still funding for additional scholarships they would be distributed to students who with a household income of up to 200 percent of the free and reduced lunch rate.
In addition to the geographic and student characteristic requirements, in order to qualify for an ESA scholarship students must have attended a public school for at least a semester during the past year or are entering kindergarten.
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