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Opinion: New scholarship program, push by parents point path forward for more Missouri school choice in 2022

  

Vanquished Virginia ex-Gov. Terry McAuliffe learned the hard way what principals, PTA parents, and classroom moms have long known: When it comes to education, underestimate parents at your own peril.

Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin’s decisive victory in early November was fueled by his support for greater parental involvement in public education. Youngkin’s approach made for a stark contrast when compared to McAuliffe’s inadvertent moment of honesty when he stated, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

State Rep. Phil Christofanelli

Nearing the two-year mark of a pandemic, the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all approach to education in Missouri seem even more obvious. Thankfully, more school choice is soon on the way, with state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick’s launch of Missouri’s new K-12 scholarship program, MOScholars.

Established by the General Assembly and signed into law this year by Gov. Mike  Parson, MOScholars, the Missouri Empowerment Scholarships Account (ESA) program, provides increased educational options to thousands of Missouri students and families, in particular those with special needs or of limited means. 

Qualifying students would be eligible for up to $6,375 in scholarships annually for approved educational services ranging from tutoring, textbooks, and computer technology to private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and tuition to attend public charter or district schools outside a student’s assigned district.

This tax-credit funded program, whose enabling legislation I sponsored, will be completely financed through donations from individuals and businesses. 

Students in St. Louis and St. Charles counties are eligible for the scholarships as well as those living in Cape Girardeau, Columbia, Jefferson City, Joplin, Kansas City, Springfield, St. Joseph, and the city of St. Louis and the counties of Jackson, Jefferson, and Clay. Additional information about the program, including expanded eligibility details, can be found at www.showmeschooloptions.org.

With the 2022 session fast approaching, it’s time to turn our attention to other pro-parent, pro-student education measures, such as fixing an archaic accounting measure that deprives all public-school students in our two biggest cities of full funding equity.

These inequities — the result of a glitch in Missouri’s 16-year-old education funding formula — cost the average St. Louis public charter student $2,500 compared to their Saint Louis Public Schools peer, and the average Kansas City charter public student $1,700 compared to their Kansas City Public Schools counterpart.  

That’s no small accounting mistake when you consider that more than half the students in Kansas City, and nearly half in St. Louis, now attend public charter schools. With bipartisan support, the Missouri House of Representatives approved a legislative fix that would ensure equitable funding for charter students, but the session ended before a Senate vote.

After years of unsuccessful efforts, the ESA bill’s passage was one of our legislature’s signature accomplishments in 2021. As my colleagues and I prepare to return to Jefferson City, let’s not forget education policy’s Golden Rule: When it comes to teaching our kids, parents are the only special interest who matter.