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Opposition remains for sprawling education bill expanding Missouri private school tax credits • Missouri Independent


Homeschooling families and lobbyists representing public school groups renewed their opposition to a wide-ranging education bill on Thursday, outnumbering advocates who testified during a House committee hearing.

The criticism echoed previous concerns with the bill, despite a litany of new provisions added by the Senate designed to win over Democrats and public school advocates.

The bill began as an expansion to the state’s K-12 tax-credit scholarship program, called MOScholars, with provisions to bump the income cap for program eligibility and end geographic restrictions. After negotiations, over a 100 pages added to the legislation by the Senate, including boosts to public-school funding, teacher recruitment efforts and the authorization of charter schools in Boone County.

Homeschoolers have questioned their inclusion in the MOScholars program, with many families saying they worry it will have negative long-term consequences for the larger homeschooling community.

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The bill’s sponsor — Republican state Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester — created a new category in the legislation designed to assuage those concerns. Dubbed “family-paced education,” the group would mirror homeschool statute but would be allowed to participate in MOScholars.

“That way, at any point in time in the future, if there were some kind of strings that were attached, homeschoolers will be protected,” Koenig told the House’s Special Committee on Education Reform Thursday morning.

But homeschooling parents who testified Thursday were not won over.

“(Family-paced education) or homeschooling, whatever you want to call it, is the same thing as homeschooling. Legally, a court is likely to interpret (family-paced education) as homeschooling,” Melissa Jacobs, who homeschools her eight children, told the committee Thursday morning. “We do not want to have to be under the same regulations as a public school as far as curriculum goes.”

Jacobs said she heard from the Home School Legal Defense Association that the two terms — family-paced education and homeschooling — could be considered the same in a courtroom.

“In the future, the concern is that it would not be an opt-in thing and that would be required for all homeschoolers to register with the state and do state testing and change,” she said.

Some homeschooling families have requested to be completely removed from state programs like MOScholars to guarantee their independence.

In November, there were 13 homeschooled children enrolled in the MOScholars program, according to data from the State Treasurer’s Office.

The Senate’s efforts to mollify concerns of the public school community weren’t any more successful. 

Groups like the Missouri School Boards Association and the Missouri Association of School Administrators spoke in opposition to the bill even though it includes provisions to raise the base teacher pay and other increases to school funding.

Otto Fajen, lobbyist for the Missouri branch of the National Education Association, said he has financing worries beyond his objection to expanding MOScholars.

“There are provisions in here that substantially increase funding obligations,” he said.

He foresees a challenge for next year’s General Assembly, if the legislation passes, to fully fund the programs alongside a potential cut to corporate income taxes.

Additionally, the formula that funds Missouri’s public schools was recalculated in the fall, costing approximately $120 million in fiscal year 2025 and $300 million in fiscal year 2026.

Those who testified in favor of the bill on Thursday focused on things like the increase to teacher pay and the increased choice provided by the tax-credit scholarships.

Becki Uccello, whose daughter Izzi is a MOScholars recipient and uses a wheelchair, said the program allowed Izzi to attend an accessible school. Uccello told the committee her neighborhood school couldn’t make wheelchair-friendly modifications, offering to put it on a five-year plan. 

A nearby parochial school, she said, was more accommodating.

“Fortunately, Izzi qualified for a MOScholars scholarship because we live in Springfield and she has an (individualized education plan),” Uccello said. “But what about the families in nearby Nixa with students who have dyslexia and are not being taught to read?”

She said the bill’s proposal to open MOScholars statewide would be helpful to kids with similar experiences to her daughter’s.

Private schools are not required to accept students with individualized education plans, which outline goals and accommodations for students with disabilities, even with a MOScholars scholarship.

One person told the committee she believed that was an “equity issue.”

Representatives from conservative groups, like Lisa Pannett of ArmorVine and James Holderman of Stand for Health Freedom, also panned the legislation.

Holderman said he thought the MOScholars program could lead to government oversight of private schools, labeling it part of a “United Nations” and “globalist” agenda.

Pannett dubbed the legislation a “Democrat bill,” saying Senate Democrats — who unanimously voted against the bill — would have voted in favor of it “if they had to.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, speaks about the second week of the legislative session in a press conference on Jan. 11 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat, told reporters Thursday that his caucus does not agree with the expansion of MOScholars, which he called a “voucher system.

“We’ve seen these voucher systems be taken advantage of in other states and bankrupt public education systems, and doing all these other terrible things,” he said. 

In a compromise, Senators negotiated to boost public education funding.

“It’s a good compromise because everybody can find something they dislike in it, and everybody can find something they really do like in it,” Rizzo said.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat and gubernatorial candidate, told reporters that House Democrats have mixed opinions on the bill.

“Some of our members do support the voucher program, but I will tell you, personally, some of the concerns that I have is that we are taking away the cap of how much money we’re spending on (MOScholars),” she said.

The amount of tax credits allocated to MO Scholars expands and contracts proportional to the per-pupil funding of public school districts.

Quade said her focus is to maintain the investment in public schools as the House looks at the legislation.

The House’s Special Committee on Education Reform did not take action on the bill Thursday but is scheduled to vote on it Tuesday.



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