Missouri state lawmakers are laying the groundwork for major education reform, including a universal education tax credit.
State Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, introduced HB 1911 as part of his effort to increase educational opportunities for students.
The bill proposes a tax credit, which would allow families to be refunded for non-public school education expenses.
The credit can’t exceed the state adequecy target – currently $7,145 – which determines per-pupil funding in public schools.
“We have for a long time communicated our desire to see money follow the students. And this is the best way that I know to accomplish that,” Richey told The Lion. “[It gives] families an opportunity to choose what they believe to be the best context or option for their children to be educated and then those education expenses are eligible for a refundable tax credit without DESE [Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] involvement or the state board of education’s involvement.
“It’s the cleanest, most unobtrusive way to provide support to those families,” he concluded.
Richey has been an outspoken critic of DESE’s “mission creep.”
“We have to clean DESE up. We need to get them back to [being] solely focused upon quality education,” he told The Lion. “They’ve suffered from mission creep for a very long time and much of their budget isn’t even focused on education.”
That’s not the only reason why HB 1911 sidesteps DESE and relies on the Missouri Department of Revenue to oversee the education tax credits.
Richey also acknowledged that some parents – especially homeschool families – are concerned that government money will have strings attached.
“The purpose in having DESE not involved is to alleviate those concerns, and families that don’t feel comfortable, they don’t have to participate.”
Richey told The Lion that as a pastor, he avoids taking government dollars for that same reason. But as a state congressman, he wants the funding to be there for those that need it.
“What I’m trying to do is to make sure that there aren’t any strings attached to this [tax credit] that would be a problem, other than just simply proving that you spent the money,” he explained. “We’ve also intentionally kept DESE out of it. So, it really is an effort to move us into that world of the money following the student.”
Other items on Richey’s agenda include refining Missouri’s education savings account program and expanding public charter schools.
The state legislative session will commence on Jan. 3.