Missouri House rejects scholarship legislation
Jefferson City, MO – With Gov. Matt Blunt watching, the Missouri House soundly rejected legislation Wednesday that would have given some students in the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts money to attend private schools.
The House voted against the bill 96-62, a resounding defeat for Blunt and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, both of whom had supported the legislation and watched from the side of the House chamber as it failed.
"We'll go forward and build more prisons in the state of Missouri," Kinder groused as he stormed out of the chamber after the vote was announced.
Blunt was also disheartened. "As somebody who thinks the status quo in St. Louis city is not good enough, I'm obviously disappointed," he told reporters as he returned to his Capitol office.
"I've never tried to contend this was some sort of panacea."
Republican legislative leaders generally don't bring bills to a vote unless they are certain they will pass. Similar measures had been around for a few years, but had not passed either the House or Senate.
House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said he hadn't been sure if there were enough votes to pass the bill, but it was time to vote and move on. He said the issue is likely dead for this year.
The legislation would have provided $40 million a year in state tax credits for people or businesses that donate to nonprofit groups that would in turn provide scholarships averaging $5,000 a year to students in the St. Louis or Kansas City districts.
Those students would have to fall below certain income guidelines $49,950 for a family of four and have a 2.5 or lower grade point average.
Families would first have to try to use the scholarship to attend a nearby public school, but if the public school refused the students, they could go to a private school.
The bill had an unusual combination of support, with conservative Republicans joining with some urban Democrats to push the idea.
Rep. Ted Hoskins, D-St. Louis, called the bill "the civil rights issue of today."
But that was not enough to overcome the strong opposition from teachers' unions, school boards and other public education groups.
Opponents said the measure amounted to a redirecting of public money to private schools when instead public schools need more money to help students do better.
"This legislation potentially touches very few children and does nothing for the vast majority of our children who would remain in the public school system," said Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis. "We have not fulfilled our responsibility to the public schools of our state."
Supporters complained that critics were overblowing the concerns.
"As some people would tell it, this bill is the cause of cancer," said Rep. Leonard Hughes, D-Kansas City. "This bill is the reason the man in North Korea has lost his mind."