Gov. Mike Parson has signed two school choice bills into law today.

HB 349 will let donors provide scholarships to students to attend a private Missouri K-12 school. In return, they would get state tax credits.

Rep. Ben Baker, Sen. Caleb Rowden, Gov. Mike Parson, Rep. Phil Christofanelli (Photo courtesy of Gov. Parson’s Office)

The scholarships can also 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 is sponsored by State Representative 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 reduce 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 like Moberly, Mexico, Monroe City, and Marshall are not eligible for these scholarships.

To trigger the tax credits, the state is required to fund at least 40% of the projected amount of transportation aid to K-12 public schools.

For years, the school choice community has been trying to get the legislation across the finish line in Missouri. Laura Slay, the executive director of the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM), praised the governor’s action.

“For more than a decade students, parents, and teachers have been pleading for the right to choose the best education for their child,” said Slay. “Today marks an 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. While there are details of the program that will need to be worked out during the rulemaking process, today’s bill signing creates the framework for a system that will give families a wide variety of educational options for their children.”

Missouri School Boards’ Association Executive Director Melissa Randol provided the following statement:

“We are very disappointed with the decision by Governor Parson to sign into law HB 349, the voucher bill that provides taxpayer dollars to private institutions that have no accountability to the public for how children are educated or kept safe or how tax dollars are spent. We are particularly disappointed that this law further erodes opportunities to fund needed investments in Missouri’s outstanding public schools. Missouri is 49th in the country in average starting teachers’ salaries – we need to invest in Missouri’s high quality teachers, rather than funnel money to institutions that have no accountability to taxpayers for how they spend taxpayers’ dollars or how they educate our children.”

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

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