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Missouri school choice bill signed into law

Missouri parents will have greater choice in their children’s education after Gov. Mike Parson signed a school choice bill into law on Wednesday.

“This legislation will empower students and parents with access to resources and educational opportunities that best meet the individual needs of their child,” Sen. Andrew Koenig, a suburban St. Louis Republican, said in a statement.

HB 349 will let donors provide scholarships to students to attend a private Missouri K-12 school and receive state tax credits. The scholarship also can be used to cover homeschooling expenses, textbooks and education-related technology, tutoring and educational therapy costs, and tuition to public charter schools and district schools outside of a student’s assigned school district. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters. It caps tax credits at $50 million the first year and $75 million with inflation.

On the final day of the legislature’s regular session this year, lawmakers passed a scaled-back version that caps the tax credits at $25 million for the first year and $50 million with inflation. Christofanelli attached this version to Senate Bill 86, sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby.

The legislation prioritizes special-needs students and those who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals. Under the plan, only students living in a Missouri city with a population of 30,000 or more can qualify. For instance, students who attend Catholic schools in Missouri towns such as Harrisonville, Moberly, Mexico, Belton, Grandview, Raytown, Raymore, Gladstone and Marshall are not eligible for these scholarships. To trigger the tax credits, the state is required to fund at least 40 percent of the projected amount of transportation aid to K-12 public schools.

“For more than a decade students, parents and teachers have been pleading for the right to choose the best education for their child,” said Laura Slay, executive director of the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri. “Today marks a historic victory for Missouri students desperate for better educational options. On behalf of the thousands of parents who have worked to make this bill a reality, the CEAM team of staff and volunteers thank Gov. Parson for signing this historic legislation and putting students’ needs first.”

Missouri negotiators delayed the possible financial hit to districts by adding a provision to the bill that will continue to count voucher students in their home districts for funding purposes for five years after the program begins, even if those students switch schools.

The first scholarships are expected to be available for the 2022-23 school year.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice