Yesterday afternoon, the Missouri Senate passed Senate Bill 313, which would create a $25 million tax-credit-funded education savings account (ESA) program for students with special needs, children who are wards of the state, and children from military families. The bill passed 20-12, and not on strict party lines, as is common with so many votes in the Missouri Legislature. Both Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal and Senator Jamilah Nasheed joined 18 of their Republican compatriots in supporting the bill.
In the process of the bill working its way through the Senate, several additional provisions were added to it. If passed, the bill would also authorize the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to accredit individual school buildings in Jackson and Saint Louis Counties. If those schools did not pass muster, students would have similar transfer rights as currently exist in districts that lose accreditation. The bill also takes steps to rectify some of the problems that have developed with the school transfer program and specifies several interventions to be taken in schools in Saint Louis and Kansas City around literacy instruction in early grades.
Generally, I favor “clean” bills that tackle one topic at a time. I also realize that policymaking requires compromise, and that some of the additions to this bill deal with issues that people in the state have been trying to address for years. While I immediately recoil at the legislature trying to dictate pedagogical decisions for individual school districts, I recognize that making sure a wider set of views are represented during its enactment can make the ESA program more durable and ensure more buy-in at the state and local level. That seems like a compromise worth making.
The main obstacle ESAs now face is Missouri is the calendar. With only two weeks left in session and budget that still must be agreed upon, time will be short. We will be following this closely and will report back with news.