The coronavirus pandemic has created a world of challenges for America’s educational system, maybe to the point of driving some members of the Missouri Legislature to put a greater emphasis this session on changes to Missouri K-12 education. In the Senate, roughly 40 bills have been filed so far about K-12 education. The House has more than 30.
Out of the gate, the Missouri Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider Tuesday two contentious public education topics.
Senate Bill 23 would let parents use tax credits to pay for their kids to attend private school, get tutoring, school supplies, and other educational needs. Supporters refer to this type of legislation as educational savings accounts and opponents call it private school vouchers.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, is offering the proposal.
“This notion that one school can be all things to all kids is something that is false,” Koenig tells Missourinet. “I have five kids and they all learn differently. The reality is every child is different and every school can’t be everything to every child. It shouldn’t be a situation where you can only move your child if you are rich. And that’s the situation. If you’re are rich, you can pay for private school tuition or move your family into a school district that is better performing.”
Brent Ghan with the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) says the group strongly opposes such bills.
“What it boils down to in their kind of convoluted schemes essentially to direct taxpayer money to private schools,” he tells Missourinet. “We are not opposed to private schools but we draw the line when private schools receive taxpayer dollars whenever they are not accountable to the public like traditional public schools are.”
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, is proposing a similar measure. Both could cost the state up to $50 million annually during a time when Missouri is watching every penny it has.
Eigel’s proposal, Senate Bill 25, also includes provisions that would expand charter schools in any school district located within a charter county as well as in any Missouri city with a population greater than 30,000 people.
Missouri Senate Education Committee Chair Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, is an advocate of charter school expansion. Charter schools are public and privately funded schools operating independently of traditional public schools.
“Most people within communities support their school. It’s kind of the center of their community, especially in our rural areas. People feel a lot of pride and loyalty to that school,” she tells Missourinet affiliate KWIX in Moberly. “But there are always going to be some people who just for whatever reason don’t thrive in that particular school and would like to go somewhere else. I believe that parents should have the right to send their child somewhere else if it isn’t working for them in the current school that they are in. So, I think parents need more choice and I think our rural schools need more funding.”
Under current state law, charter schools are allowed in Kansas City, St. Louis, and any unaccredited Missouri public school district.
Ghan says the MSBA wants greater accountability for charter schools.
“Charter schools just don’t play by the same rules as our traditional public schools. They don’t have the same degree of accountability for taxpayer dollars,” he says. “Until we see greater accountability for charter schools, we are going to be very much opposed to their expansion to other districts outside of St. Louis and Kansas City.”
Ghan says another problem MSBA has is charter schools do not have members elected to their boards.
The committee will also hear a bill sponsored by O’Laughlin. Senate Bill 55 would ban any K-12 public school from being a member of a statewide activities association, like MSHSAA, if the school prohibits a home school student from participating in an event or activity offered by a public school.
Tuesday’s hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.
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