House Bill 349 (pdf) has been signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and will most likely take effect during the 2022-2023 school year. This measure creates a charitable scholarship program that allows qualified children to attend the school of their choice.
The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts will take donations from taxpayers in exchange for a tax credit which can be claimed up to four years after the donation is made. These contributions will be handled by the Education Assistance Organization, a tax-exempt charity designed to handle this new bill’s workload.
Taxpayers cannot determine who receives the scholarship, paying in does not ensure that a specific child in question receives the scholarship, but children who are eligible include: “Qualified students that have an approved ‘individualized education plan’ (IEP) developed under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. Section 1400 et seq., as amended or qualified students living in a household whose total annual income does not exceed an amount equal to one hundred percent of the income standard used to qualify for free and reduced price lunches; Qualified students living in a household whose total annual income does not exceed an amount equal to two hundred percent of the income standard used to qualify for free and reduced price lunches; and all other qualified students.”
The question of school choice in Missouri gained much notice back in 2012 when the Normandy School District became the fourth Missouri public school to lose its accreditation. Parents in the area expressed concerns about their children’s rights to an education, and so, students of unaccredited schools were allowed to transfer to accredited school districts and the uncredited districts were ordered to pay for this transfer.
The Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education granted the Normandy School District provisional accreditation in 2017, citing, “several years of improvement in the district.” Even so, the debate over whether students should be allowed school choice has remained a topic of conversation for some time.
With this new law entering the educational spectrum, Missouri will be closely watched by other states entering the school choice debate. The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program can be used for private school tuition, transportation to and from school, and other education expenses like tutoring and supplies. Ninety percent of the donations for this fund must go expressly to the scholarship with no more than 10 percent being allocated for marketing and administrative expenses.