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ESA programs see success as Missouri lawmakers debate implementing similar scholarships


As Missouri lawmakers debate whether to implement an educational scholarship program hoping to expand school choice, similar programs in other states have seen recent success.

State Sen. Andrew Koenig’s SB 160, would establish a tax credit scholarship — called the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program — allowing taxpayers to contribute to an “educational assistance organization” and be able to claim a certain tax credit. That credit would not be more than 50 percent of the individual’s state tax liability for that tax year nor be 100 percent of the amount contributed, according to the bill.

Students would be able to apply for scholarships and use the money to alleviate the costs of qualified schools, including tuition, textbooks, and tutoring, according to the bill. The fund would not be available to pay for out-of-state private school tuition.

In Florida, similar tax credits are provided for contributions to nonprofit scholarship programs which are in turn given to eligible children from low-income families.

The largest in the nation, Florida’s program has resulted in students more likely to attend a two-year or four-year college, according to a recent study from the Urban Institute. Florida saw a 12 percent increase among students who enrolled in college when using its tax credit scholarship program since at least middle school, and a 19 percent increase among those who participated in the program since high school, according to the study.

Additionally, the study found that those enrolled in the school choice program were more likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Late last year, the nonprofit Beacon Center of Tennessee found ESA programs in The Volunteer State led to an increase in the number of high school graduates and a reduction in the number of felons. Additionally, the study projected an increase in personal income of $683 million by 2038 in the state.

Koenig’s bill has faced bipartisan opposition. Democratic state Sen. Lauren Arthur, a former teacher, called the bill “the most extreme of any in the country.”

“Taxpayer subsidy of education for students who never intended to attend public schools seems like a poor use of resources,” Arthur told The Missouri Times. “This is a bill designed to dismantle public education and drain money from those schools to unregulated private entities. There’s no clarity around how the program would work, and no protections for students with disabilities.”

Koenig’s bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor for a person to knowingly misusing funds in the scholarship accounts.