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Missouri House perfects ESA bill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House is one step closer to progressing a controversial bill establishing an education savings account (ESA) program. 

HB 349, sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, would establish the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. The program would allow 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 bill was narrowly perfected Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 83 to 71. 

“We have debated this for a long time, not just today but for years, about how to best serve the children of this state,” he said. “It is my belief after five years of working in this body that we can do really great things and that we can work together and negotiate and compromise to provide a real solution for a number of kids who are in desperate situations, and we can do all of that while still protecting access to our public schools.”

The total amount of tax credits available through the program would be capped at $75 million under an amendment from Christofanelli that was adopted on the floor. The amendment would also move those at the poverty level to the front of the line and limit the pool to those living in a city with a population at or exceeding 30,000.

The amendment drew the ire of the other side of the aisle for its population threshold. Rep. Raychel Proudie spoke against the amendment and the bill, 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.”

GOP members also raised concerns over the measure, seeking to expand the reach to constituents in their more rural districts. 

The measure led to its own amendment from Democratic Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern that would have eliminated the population barrier, which the body voted down. 

Another amendment from Rep. LaKeySha Bosley that tied the program to an increase of the K-12 transportation line item in the state budget to be funded by at least 40 percent was adopted, with legislators on both sides of the aisle speaking in favor of the constitution. The same topic was debated on the Senate side as part of a massive education bill that took up nearly 12 hours of debate Tuesday. 

Another added provision would allow schools eligible for the program to continue counting students who leave the school to continue counting them toward its funding considerations for the year. 

ESAs have been the subject of debate in both chambers over the years. The same act stalled in the Senate in 2019.