Less Direct School Choice Proposal Being Considered in Missouri Legislature

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.–Missouri lawmakers are considering a measure to introduce “education savings accounts” (EDU’s) into the state.

The legislation relies on tax-free donations from individuals or corporations to finance a program available to all K-12 students.  The contributions are handled by non-profit educational assistance organizations, which distribute funds requested by parents into accounts the parents manage.

The money can be used for a number of state-approved purposes including private school tuition, online education, tutoring, and homeschooling.

Adam Peshek with the Foundation for Excellence in Education says research shows the funds are used by the kids who need it most.  He points to EDU studies conducted in Florida by the University of California at Davis and Northwestern University.

“The kids who participate are disproportionally more likely the ones that are doing worse in school,” said Peshek.  “(They’re also) the ones that are coming from schools that are academically worst performing, and the ones that have higher incidents of violence.  So this would make sense.  Who is going to take the time to take their kid out of their school, find a new option for them, research and put them somewhere?  The kids who need it the most.”

During a Wednesday Senate committee hearing, a number of free market and politically conservative groups lined up to support the proposal, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Century Foundation.

Jonathan Butcher with the conservative and libertarian Goldwater Institute says a survey he conducted in Arizona shows parents like education savings accounts.

“All of the families that we surveyed reported some level of satisfaction, even those who were highly satisfied with their public school beforehand,” said Butcher.  “71% were highly satisfied.”

Also testifying in favor of the EDU measure were school choice advocacy groups such as Ed Choice, Families for Home Education and the Missouri Education Reform Council.  One private citizen, Lisa Smith, said her children were forced to attend failing public schools for nine years.

Scott Kimble of the state School Administrators Association is against the measure, and points to a study of a voucher program Governor Greitens praised.

“That survey which was conducted by a pro-voucher group, found that Arizona’s voucher program, the program that the governor specifically referenced in his state of the state address, disproportionally served white students and those from more affluent families,” said Kimble.  “The entire Arizona population is 41 % white, yet 76 percent of those participating in the voucher program are white.  The median household income in Arizona is $50,000, yet over 60% using the voucher program are in higher income brackets.”

Mike Wood of the Missouri State Teachers Association opposes the measure because of its lack of accountability. “We just can’t assume that somebody who takes one of these scholarships goes to a school or receives an education that is of high quality.”

Other groups testifying against the measure were the Heartland Institute, The Missouri National Education Association, Springfield Public Schools and the Missouri Retired Teachers Association.

The education savings account is designed to bypass the potential conflict of using public money for private schools by its use of tax credits.  The U.S. Supreme Court and The Missouri Supreme Court have ruled that tax credits don’t implicate the use of public funds.

The Senate proposal’s sponsor, Republican Senator Ed Emery of Lamar, says typical contributors to education savings accounts in other states are corporations looking for tax shelter.  The plan being considered in Missouri would have an annual cumulative tax credit cap of $25 million.

If the proposal becomes law, Missouri would join a handful of states offering education savings accounts.  Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee have programs in place

(Jason Taylor, Missourinet)

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