Missouri Senate bill would expand school choice opportunities for families

A Missouri Senate committee heard a school choice bill which would establish tax credits for homeschool expenses and make state funds available for private education.

“State government should be working for Missouri’s working families with solution-focused policies that actually make a difference in their lives,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, told the Lion. “We can give parents the freedom to send their kids to the school of their choice.”

SB 81 was discussed in the Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday.

“[The bill] allows the parents to decide what is the best education for the child and the state’s share of that funding to be used by the parents at their discretion for the education of their children,” Coleman said during the hearing.

The bill would help families in two different scenarios. For homeschoolers, qualifying expenses would be reimbursable through a state tax credit, up to the amount of the state’s share of per-pupil funding, known as the “the state adequacy target.”

For families who wish to send their child to a qualifying school other than their local district school, the state’s share of funding would be available up front, at the time of enrollment, and paid directly to the school of choice, whether a public, charter or private school.

Currently Missouri offers a tax-credit incentivized scholarship program which is limited by family income thresholds and geographical areas. SB 81 would represent a significant expansion of school choice for the state.

Several attendees at Tuesday’s hearing spoke in support of the bill. 

“We definitely are very supportive of the funding following the students,” said Jeremy Cady, state director of Americans for Prosperity. However, he expressed concern about the funding mechanism of tax credits. 

“The parents are the best ones to make these decisions [on] how to educate their children so we’re in full support of this,” said Jamie Morris, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference. “Anything that gives parents the opportunity and the ability to direct how their child is educated.” 

Jasmine Wells, a representative of Missouri Century Foundation and yes. every kid. foundation, also testified in the hearing.  

There were no opposing comments during the hearing.  

Coleman said she believes education choice helps resolve many cultural debates being waged in public schools. 

“The way that you solve these problems is by just letting parents be able to make the decision and have the dollars follow,” she said. “I don’t expect we’re going to have a mass exodus from our public schools. I think they’re working for most of our kids and the fiscal note reflects that.” 

Sen. Rick Brattin talked about how his own children struggled in public school – receiving straight A’s but not meeting grade-level reading and math standards – but now thrived under a rigorous, classical private school’s curriculum. He described the difference as “night and day.” 

Coleman also noted many families don’t have the same financial resources as her fellow senator, saying, “I don’t think that its fair that people’s bank accounts or their zip code determines what services their children are able to receive.” 

SB 81 could change that by allowing education funding to follow the child to the school of their choice. 

The hearing ended with Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-District 15, and chair of the committee, expressing dissatisfaction with the current public school system.  

“Clearly public schools are creating their own religion by teaching materialism, I think by teaching kids that they can create their own reality and I do see this as a destructive force across our country,” Koenig concluded. 

Further action on the bill has not yet been scheduled.