JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House passed a controversial education bill to thunderous applause Thursday after one Republican representative flipped his vote.
The bill, which creates an education savings account (ESA) program, narrowly passed 82 to 71 after lawmakers on either side of the issue got emotional on the House floor Thursday.
The bill was perfected Wednesday after more than two hours of floor debate. One member, Rep. Louis Riggs, voted no on perfection but changed his mind by the time the vote was called Thursday. Riggs, an educator himself, said a big concern of his prior to the perfection vote was the cost of the program.
“The main reason I voted against perfection was that I wasn’t sure we would be able to afford it,” Riggs told The Missouri Times. “After talking with the bill sponsor, I realized our general revenue numbers are actually in a lot better shape than people thought they would be, so the money is definitely there, My major concern was if we’re going to stand-up a program, do we have the money to pay for it? It appears we do, so my objection was resolved.”
Riggs said he was swayed by Speaker Rob Vescovo’s floor address and otherwise agreed with the intent of the bill, saying that “complicated is the understatement of the week” when it came to the legislation.
“It’s no shock and no surprise that I care about this topic,” Vescovo said. “Everything I’ve worked on since I walked in and took that seat on Jan. 6 has been for kids, for the children. Let’s get them homes, let’s get them education. There’s nothing more positive for criminal justice reform than education. … I don’t want to grow the prisons, I want to grow the research department at Mizzou, and I know you all do too.”
Three Democrats also changed their votes from an initial yes during perfection, with one shifting to a no and the others absent.
The bill would create the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, allowing taxpayers to claim a tax credit of up to 50 percent of their tax liability for contributions to educational assistance programs. The funds would be pooled in ESAs for use on tuition, textbooks, tutoring services, and other costs. The program would apply to taxpayers in areas with populations at or exceeding 30,000.
The bill drew the ire of Democrats Wednesday, with Rep. Raychel Proudie calling it “an experiment” aimed at urban communities and urging the legislature to focus on housing discrimination and other social issues.
“I pay taxes, I want to have a vote in my community’s say here,“ Proudie said. “If it’s not good enough for your kids, don’t experiment on mine.”
A provision from Rep. LaKeySha Bosley would trigger the program once 40 percent or more of the K-12 transportation line item in the budget had been funded. The move drew the support of representatives on both sides of the aisle and mirrors part of the massive Senate education bill that stalled after nearly 12 hours of debate this week.
House members have alleged that Vescovo threatened their bills if they did not vote in favor of education reform legislation, which has hit snags in the House this year.