If the Herzog Foundation is an aircraft carrier, its ESA program is a 30-ton aircraft launched into flight with just 300 feet of runway.
Since July 1, when Missouri’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program began accepting applications, the Herzog Tomorrow Foundation has awarded $1.37 million in scholarships to 215 students attending over 40 schools.
And the program has recipient families soaring.
“Thank you so very much for letting us know! I’m in tears!” Kelley, a mother who plans to send her children to Summit Christian Academy in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, said in response to news her applications were approved. “We honestly didn’t know how we were going to afford to send our boys, but we knew it was the right decision for them and for our family.
“This is such a huge blessing for us, and for others as well! Thank you so much to you and your organization for being a part of this!!!”
Herzog ESA administrator and state representative Josh Hurlbert, R-Smithville, enjoys letting parents such as Kelley know that their family will receive help.
“It’s been heartwarming to talk with parents and break the news that their child will be receiving this scholarship and realize just how much of a difference this funding will make in their children’s lives,” Hurlbert told The Lion.
Missouri’s ESA program – MOScholars for short – offers tax credits to individuals or businesses on contributions to the program, and uses the money to fund scholarships worth up to $6,375 per qualifying student.
The scholarships can be used by families to pay tuition and other approved education-related expenses at qualifying Missouri schools, most notably private schools, including Christian schools.
Qualifying students must live in approved cities or counties and have either an individualized education plan (IEP) or be a member of a household under certain income thresholds.
Herzog is one of six nonprofit Educational Assistance Organizations endorsed by the state to facilitate donations and the awarding of resultant scholarships.
In the last two months, more than 50 donors have contributed through Herzog’s facilitation, enabling the foundation’s $1.37 million distribution of scholarships.
“Donating to the MOScholars program is a no-brainer,” says Todd Graves, chairman of the Herzog Foundation, which publishes The Lion. “Parents should have a say over how state education dollars allotted to their children are spent. And if parents choose a Christian education, the government shouldn’t get in the way.”
The program incentivizes donors with a 100% tax credit of up to half of their state income tax liability. If an individual or business expects to have a $2,000 tax liability for 2022, for example, a $1,000 donation to the program would effectively reduce the taxes owed by $1,000, while sending the same amount to the ESA program for use by families who need it.
MOScholars was established by Missouri General Assembly bills HB349 and SB86, signed into law last year. Their passage was made possible in part by assuaging the concerns of some lawmakers that the program should not reduce public school funding.
“The MOScholars program will have no negative impact on public school funding,” Elizabeth Roberts, Herzog’s communications director told The Lion. “And in fact, if a student does choose to leave a public school as a result of the program, that public school will still get to keep that student’s funds for years to come.”
Yet the potential impact for families receiving scholarships is huge, offering them choices beyond the local public school they’re presently assigned.
“No student’s educational opportunities should be limited by their zip code or income level,” Hurlbert says. “The MOScholars K-12 Scholarship program is broadening the academic horizons for students across the state and helping them afford the best fit for their education.”
It’s what proponents of ESAs and similar programs call school choice. And while Missouri’s program remains limited compared to states such as Arizona, it’s a start.
“Education is not one-size-fits-all. Some children can excel in their local school district, while others need something more specialized or challenging. School choice makes that possible,” Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, whose office oversees the ESA program, said in a statement.
“My staff and I are working to implement MOScholars, and are looking forward to the day when all Missouri children have access to a quality education that meets their needs.”