Republicans hope the omnibus education bill in front of the Senate will take care of major priorities for Gov. Eric Greitens’ and themselves.
The measure creates education savings accounts, or ESAs, that only foster children, children with disabilities and children of military personnel can use for private school tuition.
It also requires individual schools, not school districts, to be accredited by the state; expands the school transfer law to allow students to attend charter and virtual schools; and allows transfers to both public and private nonreligious schools outside an unaccredited school district.
Senate Bill 313, which received first-round approval late Monday night, will likely be voted over to the House, though leaders there have shied away from measures that pack multiple related issues into one. And education lobbyists argue that it’s a way to open the door for school vouchers, which provide public money for kids to go to private schools.
But Senate bill sponsor Andrew Koenig, a Republican from Manchester, said all schools across the state — public or private — will benefit.
“We’ve had a lot of these issues that have been lingering for years because they’d been vetoed by our previous governor (Jay Nixon),” Koenig said. “I’m optimistic that we’re going to get it across the finish line.”
He plans to persuade House leaders to get the bill to Greitens — who said in his State of the State Address in January that ESAs would help those groups of children get “a fair shot at the American Dream" — as soon as possible. Education committee members in that chamber didn’t immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.
Educators aren't so sure
The bill is getting a cold reception from some in the education lobby. Brent Ghan, deputy executive director of the Missouri School Boards Association, said it’s essentially a private-school voucher program.
“We have nothing against private schools at all, and there are many that do a fine job,” he said. “But we simply don’t think that public money should be funneled to private schools since they are not accountable to the public for the way they use that money in the same way public schools are.”
Ghan also takes issue with the fact that the education savings accounts would also provide tax credits to anyone that donates money to the program.
“We feel like the state simply cannot afford another tax credit program draining resources away from public education and other services,” he said.
Meanwhile, a bill in the Missouri House about school transfers was sent back to committee on Tuesday. Sponsored by Republican Rep. David Wood of Versailles, House Bill 118 would require students to be enrolled for at least one full semester before they could apply for a transfer. Local school districts would have to indicate ahead of the 2017-2018 school year how many transfer students they will accept.