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OPINION: It’s time for real school choice in Missouri

By Rick Brattin

State Senator, District 31

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that Missouri needs more — and better — education options for students. We cannot allow this pandemic to crush education growth in our state even more than it has.

As a conservative and strong believer in education freedom, I will be leading an effort this year to enact a true education savings account (ESA) program where education funding follows students, not school buildings.

The status quo for education in Missouri is not working, and anyone who claims otherwise is not being completely honest. We know that traditional public schools are failing the needs of some students. School choice reform would allow parents to select the best education options for their child’s specific needs.

An education savings account would give parents the greatest flexibility to customize their child’s education to fit their specific learning needs.

In the past, there have been unsuccessful efforts to pass ESA-style programs that relied on private donations and new tax credit programs. My legislation is different and will provide families with funds directly from the state to use for a variety of education options.

Here is how the program would work: Upon application by a family for an eligible student, the state would place an allotted portion of education dollars in a flexible savings account to be used for state-approved education expenses. Missouri families could use the funds to pay for tuition at a qualified private school or private virtual school, tutoring, education pods, education therapy, certain exam fees, or fees for summer or after-school education programs.

With the severe detrimental effect the current pandemic has had on so many students, there could not be a better time for Missouri to get serious about education reform.

Earlier last summer the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a victory for school choice reform in “Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.” The court ruled Montana’s prohibition on using tax credit scholarship funds at a religious school is unconstitutional. This ruling is important for many states with Blaine amendments, including Missouri, as states can no longer use the amendments to prevent students from attending religious schools under a state school choice program.

Supporters of the status quo in Missouri will make false arguments that school choice options like ESAs hurt public schools. This is simply not the case. School choice reforms like my ESA legislation does not take money away from students enrolled in public schools. Missouri’s public schools will still get funding for the students they teach.

My goal in the next year is to deliver meaningful school choice reform to Missouri students. My ESA legislation would put Missouri on the leading edge of reforms to expand educational freedom for our children. While many states offer some type of tax credit scholarship program, only a handful of states offer a true ESA program that gives parents a significant degree of freedom to best utilize education funds for their child. I am ready to take on the entrenched interests that have kept Missouri from advancing true education reform. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose.

Our children’s success depends on us delivering on this effort.


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