Missouri Legislature Approves Charter Expansion for Governor’s Approval

An expansive education bill that widens a private school scholarship program and introduces charter schools to Boone County has narrowly cleared the Missouri House and is now headed to the governor’s office, securing the bare minimum number of votes required for approval.

The bill, spanning 153 pages and championed by Republican state Sen. Andrew Koenig from Manchester, is projected to carry a price tag of $468 million when fully enacted. It passed by a vote of 82-69 and is on its way to Gov. Mike Parson. A coalition of three Democrats joined forces with 79 Republicans in favor of the bill, while opposition came from 45 Democrats and 24 Republicans.

State Rep. Phil Christofanelli, a St. Peters Republican, shepherded the Senate bill and sponsored the legislation last year that established the tax-credit scholarship program, known as MOScholars.

Speaking during the debate on Thursday, Christofanelli emphasized that the bill blends his support for the MOScholars program with investments in rural schools.

“We’ve crafted a comprehensive package that caters to the diverse educational interests,” Christofanelli noted.

The bill’s original version spanned 12 pages, but senate negotiations resulted in the addition of over a hundred pages of educational provisions.

“We are embarking on a collective journey,” Christofanelli remarked on Thursday. “This represents the most substantial public education investment that the state has ever witnessed.”

Prior to the vote, lawmakers proposed 53 amendments, yet Republican leadership disallowed their presentation for consideration.

Rep. Paula Brown, a Democrat from Hazelwood, criticized the Senate’s control over the process during the debate.

“We should uphold the dignity of this chamber; it seems like our voices are being disregarded,” Brown stated.

Christofanelli highlighted that the Senate heeded concerns, and modifications were incorporated into another bill on Wednesday to resolve issues within the broader package.

“My apprehension was that if those changes were made to this bill and it was sent back to the Senate, it might get stuck, and we would be left without a law in the end,” he cautioned.

After engaging with key legislators, he presented recommendations to the Senate. Subsequently, on Wednesday evening, the Senate introduced and passed a revised version of Christofanelli’s bill concerning full-time virtual schools.

Following the approval of the larger education package, the House sanctioned this subsequent bill with the necessary amendments.

While the bill includes provisions for enhancing teacher salaries and district funding, Democrats expressed reservations, particularly regarding the estimated cost.

“This bill presents some attractive, positive aspects that we appreciate, but they come at the expense of some severe drawbacks,” remarked House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Democrat from Springfield. “As we have discussed, the real issue with this legislation is its financial implications.”

Democratic representatives from Boone County also voiced opposition to the introduction of charter schools in their region.

State Rep. David Tyson Smith, a Democrat from Columbia, denounced the bill as detrimental to Boone County.

“Our schools hold accreditation; this bill isn’t necessary for us,” he asserted. “We are already precariously balanced financially. Bringing charter schools into Boone County, as this bill proposes, will only harm us.”

As the final votes were cast and the bill secured passage, Sen. Koenig sat on the House dais, visibly pleased to see the bill he considers his chief legislative objective successfully cross the finish line.

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