Many people, including most Republicans, have been working toward Missouri families having more educational options for their children. The conversation has been happening for years. It's nothing new and it's been a pretty controversial subject for quite some time.
School choice in Missouri has tended to be a topic that smaller, rural communities don't appreciate as much as inner city areas. There are hundreds of smaller school districts in Missouri situated in communities where the school is the center of that community. It's the team everyone cheers for, the prom everyone loves to see photos of and the central unifying element of the culture.
To give families a choice could mean a few different things. First of all, it could create a funding issue since schools are paid by government, most often, per student. If all families could choose to leave, what might that look like? School choice might also mean an influx of students from other areas. What if aspiring athletes move to schools with better athletic programs? There are a whole host of unanswered questions that cause many districts to be hesitant in supporting school choice.
The 2021 legislative session brought another school choice debate which was spurred on by the Covid crisis. HB 349 was introduced and will create Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for qualifying students. With virtual schooling having risen significantly because of Covid, lawmakers felt it was critical to begin to put more options in place for parents in Missouri.
Although HB 349 passed, it is not a solution for everyone. In fact, it only applies to districts and families who qualify.
I had the pleasure to interview Cecilia Johnson, a lobbyist who worked on behalf of the bill. We had a great a conversation and she was able to shed light on the changes coming soon for Missouri schools, should Governor Parson sign the bill into law this week.
The interview was recorded on Zoom if you'd like to watch in its entirety.
In a nutshell, the new bill only applies to the following students:
Students must live in...
1. a city with a population of more than 30,000 OR
2. a county with a charter form of government
The student must either..
1. have an IEP OR
2. live in a household where the income is not more than 200% of the maximum amount to qualify for free or reduced lunches.
The student must..
1. have attended public school for one semester of the previous 12 months OR
2. be eligible for kindergarten or first grade according to specific guidelines
Parents of qualifying students must apply for the scholarship which would be awarded for the 2022-23 academic year. A family need only apply once and would receive the yearly scholarship until the student graduates from high school.
Funds may be used for:
- Tuition & fees at a qualified school
- Qualifying therapies
- Testing fees
- Extracurricular activities
- Computer hardware and technology
- Summer programs
- Transportation costs
The scholarships will be funded by tax credits reaching up to $75 million per year.