Missouri Senate Approves Increase in Public School Funding Through Private School Tax Credit Bill

Missouri Senate Democrats have ceased their filibuster of a bill seeking to expand the state’s K-12 tax-credit scholarship program. They’ve agreed to allow the legislation to proceed for a vote after Republicans included provisions to enhance public school funding and teacher retention efforts.

The bill secured first-round approval in the Senate with a 20-13 vote on Tuesday evening, marking the second iteration presented this week. Originally a 12-page document, the bill expanded to 76 pages and later reached 153 pages through negotiations on Tuesday.

Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat, expressed her concerns about elements in the bill to its sponsor, Sen. Andrew Koenig.

Acknowledging the compromise, Koenig from Manchester, a Republican, stated, “That makes two of us.”

Despite their differences, Arthur noted, “At the end of the day, I think we’ve reached the right balance.”

Republican Sens. Justin Brown of Rolla, Mike Moon of Ash Grove, and Elaine Gannon of DeSoto opposed the bill.

Gannon, who has voiced her disapproval of tax-credit scholarships at the committee level, emphasized that she is wary of these scholarships diverting funds from public schools.

The bill would expand the state’s K-12 tax-credit scholarship program, MOScholars, to cover all of Missouri. It would also raise the income threshold for program eligibility from 200% to 300% of the reduced lunch amount.

Furthermore, the bill aims to increase the financial assistance provided to students with different needs, such as those with limited English proficiency, free or reduced lunch eligibility, and students with individualized education plans.

The legislation proposes to raise the tax credits ceiling from $50 million to $75 million and considers adjusting this limit based on changes in state aid to school districts.

Additionally, the bill would allow charter schools to operate in Boone County, extending beyond Kansas City and St. Louis where they are presently permitted.

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden advocated for a charter school in his county of Columbia, emphasizing the need for more educational options.

After deliberating for nearly four hours on Monday, Senate Democrats ended their filibuster, leading to amendments impacting various sections of state law.

Among the changes are incentives for five-day instruction in specific school districts and modifications to the state’s school funding formula, including a proposal to increase the minimum teacher salary to $40,000.

The adjustment to the foundation formula from student attendance to enrollment was suggested in a study conducted by Bruce Baker for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The bill seeks to introduce a literacy fund and provide grants for weekly reading programs. It also proposes enhancing teacher salaries in hard-to-staff schools, expanding pathways for teaching certifications, and easing entry into education training programs.

Debate concluded late on Tuesday, with the bill slated for fiscal oversight before moving to the House for further approval.

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