School Choice Bill Passes in Missouri

Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri. (Nagel Photography/Shutterstock.com)

The Missouri House of Representatives passed Missouri HB349, a school choice bill that provides tuition scholarships through a tax credit. The Bill now heads to Governor Mike Parson for him to sign it into law.

Under the bill, Missouri taxpayers can donate as much as 50% of their tax liability to eligible non-profit scholarship organizations. The donors receive a 100% tax credit for their donation, and the non-profits then award the money to students through ESAs (Education Savings Accounts). In total, $6,375 can go to eligible students for education-related expenses in a public, charter, virtual, private, or home school.

To be eligible for these scholarships, students must not have attended a Missouri private school the previous school year. Students who attended public school, moved from out of state, or are entering kindergarten would be eligible. Once awarded, these students can continue to receive scholarships in subsequent years.

The bill could immediately impact incoming kindergartners in the St. Louis Jewish private school community and those moving from out of state. Students who are eligible as they enter private school continue to be eligible throughout their years in school.

This bill had its fair share of drama and uncertainty, barely squeaked by in the House, passing with exactly enough votes, and then being held up in the Senate Fiscal Oversight Committee until Thursday afternoon.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” says Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, Director of Government Affairs, Agudath Israel of Illinois, a former Missourian who has led the Agudah’s efforts in Missouri. “The bill was being held hostage in committee and we were fearful it was going to die there, and then yesterday, in a matter of hours, it was voted out of the committee, released to the senate floor, voted on and passed.”

In the Missouri legislature, the bill had many champions who pushed it forward: Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, Senators Andrew Koenig and Cindy O’Laughlin, Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo, and House sponsor Rep. Phil Christofanelli.

“We fought for this for years,” says Rabbi Soroka. “Similar bills were introduced and progressed in prior attempts but never made it to the finish line. The fact that leadership made this issue a top priority was crucial to the effort, and the pandemic changed many people’s perspective about the need for children to have alternatives.”