Missouri Senate Reaches Accord to Enhance Public-School Funding within Private-School Tax-Credit Legislation

The filibuster ended after Republicans agreed to incorporate provisions to bolster public school funding and teacher retention efforts into the legislation.

The bill, which received first-round approval in the Senate, underwent significant modifications during negotiations. Originally a 12-page document, it expanded to 76 pages before ballooning to 153 pages after subsequent negotiations. While some Democrats expressed reservations about certain aspects of the bill, they ultimately agreed to the compromise, acknowledging the need for balance.

Republican Senators Justin Brown, Mike Moon, and Elaine Gannon joined Democrats in voting against the bill. Gannon, particularly vocal in her opposition, expressed concerns that tax-credit scholarships could divert funds away from public schools. She emphasized the importance of funding educational choices through alternative means such as charter schools and private institutions.

The legislation, which would expand the state’s K-12 tax-credit scholarship program known as MOScholars statewide, includes several key provisions. It aims to increase the income threshold for qualifying as low-income from 200% to 300% of the reduced lunch eligibility amount. Additionally, it seeks to raise the maximum cap for tax credits from $50 million to $75 million, with adjustments tied to changes in state aid to school districts.

Furthermore, the bill proposes allowing charter schools to operate in Boone County, expanding their current jurisdiction beyond Kansas City and St. Louis. This provision garnered support from Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, who advocated for providing additional educational options for Columbia residents.

Missouri State Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, and Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, kick off a filibuster of a bill that would expand the state’s K-12 tax-credit scholarships (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

In response to concerns about funding and teacher retention, the bill includes provisions to incentivize five-day instruction weeks in charter counties and cities with populations exceeding 30,000. It also proposes changes to the state’s school funding formula, transitioning from average daily attendance to enrollment as the basis for calculating aid. Additionally, the bill aims to increase the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 and create a literacy fund to support reading programs.

The amended bill also introduces measures to facilitate teacher certification and address staffing shortages in schools. It allows individuals with bachelor’s degrees to pursue an 18-hour teacher training program for credentials to teach in Missouri private schools. Moreover, it provides subject-area certifications for bachelor’s degree recipients, streamlining the process for qualified individuals to enter the teaching profession.

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Debate on the bill concluded after extensive discussion, with Senate leadership committing to further review its fiscal implications before final approval. Once approved by the Senate, the bill will proceed to the House for further consideration.

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