Missouri House sends major education bills to Gov. Parson’s desk

April 22, 2024



JEFFERSON CITY — Two bills that fundamentally change schooling in Missouri are headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk after they received final approval from the House Thursday morning.

Senate Bill 727 is the most expansive. It allows charter schools to operate in Boone County, raising teacher baseline pay to $40,000, and increases the annual funding for Missouri Empowerment Scholarships. The scholarships allow eligible parents to receive state funding to send their kids to the school of their choice, increasing from $50 million a year to $75 million a year.

A bill with such drastic changes has generated some drastically different opinions among lawmakers.

“This is the most substantive investment in public education that this state has ever seen,” said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, who handled the bill in the House.

Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, sees things differently.

“People hate this bill,” he said. “(Christofanelli) has not been inside Columbia Public Schools. He has not talked to the superintendent, but this bill is poison. Our schools are accredited. We don’t need this bill.”

Public school districts in Boone County sent a letter of disapproval of the bill to lawmakers when it was first introduced.

Still, there are parts of the bill members from both parties agree on, such as moving the state’s school funding model from being attendance-based to enrollment-based.

Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis, best summed up the mood across the floor.

“I spoke with my superintendent (in my district) in-depth on this, and yes, he does not like things in this bill. He does love things in this bill,” he said. “And, I think that’s the kind of sentiment in this room, in general, that there’s some love and hate in this bill.”

Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, D-Columbia, is a former Columbia Public School teacher.

She joined other Boone County Democrats and expressed frustration with the county being singled out for charter school expansion.

“We’re all accredited,” she said. “We all are strongly supported by our community. This is, it appears to me, to be a very vengeful and political move.”

Another area of concern is the funding.

In Columbia, Steinhoff described the financial estimates on charter schools as $15 million in funds diverted from public schools, with another $8 million on vouchers for the empowerment scholarships.

The fiscal note on SB 727 projects general revenue spending of $467 million when all parts of the bill are fully implemented in fiscal year 2031.

Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Manchester, criticized Republicans for claiming to be fiscally conservative, yet passing a bill that she claims is unsustainable based on future revenue projections.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, also accused Republicans of hypocrisy. Republicans passed a version of the state budget that lowered the amount of overall money dedicated to teacher salary increases two weeks ago. Yet on Thursday, they included it in this bill.

Quade also said House Republicans did not hear or accept any of the amendments proposed by House Democrats. The version of the bill that was passed is the exact, unchanged version sent back from the Senate.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, said this bill is entirely about choice.

“For those parents that don’t have an option. Where their kids are stuck in a school somewhere in this state that may be failing them, and they do not have an opportunity and any other option to be able to afford that education to their child. This bill also addresses that,” he said.

The House also sent House Bill 2287 to the governor’s desk on Thursday. It allows parents to enroll their children in online programs of their choice, regardless of a school district’s approval.