Missouri Education Bill: Impact, Cost, and Controversy – Get the Latest Updates

2024-04-18 17:39:32

A massive education bill that expands a private school scholarship program and opens Boone County to charter schools was beeped out of the Missouri House and to the governor’s desk Thursday, winning the minimum number of votes needed for passage.

The 153-page bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester, is estimated to cost taxpayers $468 million when fully implemented. It passed 82-69 and goes to Gov. Mike Parson. Three Democrats joined 79 Republicans in support of the bill, with 45 Democrats and 24 Republicans voting against.

State Representative Phil Christofanelli, a St. Peters Republican, carried the Senate bill and sponsored legislation in 2021 that created the tax credit scholarships, called MOScholars.

He said during Thursday’s debate that the bill combines his interest in the MOScholars program with investment in rural schools.

“We put together a package that serves all the diverse interests in education,” Christofanelli said.

The original bill was 12 pages, but negotiations in the Senate resulted in the inclusion of over a hundred pages of education legislation.

“We are all going to take a step together,” Christofanelli said on Thursday. “This is the most substantial investment in public education this state has ever seen.”

Lawmakers submitted 53 amendments before the vote, but none were allowed by the GOP leadership to present for consideration.

Rep. Paula Brown, a Democrat from Hazelwood, said during debate that the Senate controls the process.

“It’s a valued room, and we act like we don’t matter,” she said.

Christofanelli said the Senate listened to concerns, and amendments were made to another bill Wednesday to smooth over issues with the larger package.

“My concern was that if I made those changes to this bill and sent it back to the Senate, it would get caught in the abyss and we would never have a law at the end,” he said.

He gathered input from key legislators and presented proposals to the Senate. Then, on Wednesday night, the Senate introduced and passed a new version of Christofanelli’s account on full-time virtual schools.

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The House passed this second bill, with the amendments, after the larger education package was approved.

Although the bill included measures to boost teacher salaries and school district funding, Democrats had concerns. Many focused on the estimated cost.

“This is a bill that has some great, shiny things that we like in exchange for some really bad (things),” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat. “But as we’ve talked about, the real problem with this bill is the amount of money we have.”

Boone County Democrats also spoke out against adding charter schools in their community.

State Representative David Tyson Smith, a Democrat from Columbia, called the bill “poison” for Boone County.

“Our schools are accredited. We don’t need this bill,” he said. “We are already financially hanging on a razor’s edge. You bring charter schools to Boone County, which this bill specifically does, and that hurts us.”

As the final votes rolled in and the bill’s passage was assured, Koenig sat on the House podium and smiled as the bill he called his highest legislative priority crossed the finish line.



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