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Historic education reform package passes to transform Missouri schools

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KCTV) – Two new bills have been passed in Missouri to transform the state’s educational landscape in a historic education reform package.

Theannounced on Thursday, April 18, that the Show-Me State took a significant step for education as Senate Bill 727 and House Bill 2287 both passed the Missouri General Assembly. The bills include education reform meant to enhance elementary and secondary education statewide.

Legislators noted that SB 727 passed on Thursday with a vote of 82-69 and includes several key measures for the state’s education system. These include updates to the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program to triple in size, adjust minimum school term requirements and boost literacy among elementary students.

“Every child in Missouri deserves access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs,” Christofanelli (R-St. Peters) said. “With the expansion of the ESA program, we are reaffirming our commitment to Missouri’s families and their right to educational freedom. This is a victory for parents who want more control over their children’s education and for students who will now have more avenues to achieve their full potential.”

State officials indicated that the bill encourages schools to adopt a 5-day week schedule and expands options for homeschooling to provide more flexibility. It also expands the maximum amount of tax credits for the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship program. This prioritizes scholarships for low-income students and those with learning disabilities.

“As an educator and former superintendent, I believe there are a number of items in the bill that balance traditional and pro-choice individuals. This legislation will help our traditional public schools financially and at the same time offer families more educational choices,” State Rep. Brad Pollitt (R- Sedalia) and Chair of the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education, said. “Prioritizing the Missouri Empowerment Scholarships to kids with special educational services will be a huge help to families and schools. Also, refining the daily attendance calculations and helping fund higher salaries for our front-line teachers will positively impact all children in our schools.”

Furthermore, legislators said the bill increases funds for early childhood education to establish a strong foundation for future generations. It prioritizes teacher welfare with a wage increase from $25,000 to $40,000, career ladder programs and flexible incentives. It also addresses certification, board vacancies, suicide prevention and education reform.

“The passage of these bills marks a major milestone in our efforts to strengthen Missouri’s education system for all students. This bill gives parents more choices in their child’s education, strengthens and protects funding for our public schools, and ensures every child receives a quality education, regardless of background,” House Speaker Dean Plocher (R-Des Peres) said. “By prioritizing initiatives that support student success and teacher excellence, all while improving the recruitment and retention of our front-line teachers by increasing their salaries, we are investing in the prosperity of our communities and the well-being of our children. I also want to thank the three Democrats that joined the Republicans in voting to approve one of the largest, if not the largest, pay raises for teachers in this state’s history.”

Meanwhile, legislators indicated that HB 2287 provides clarity as it fixes language in the 2022 legislation that created Missouri’s Course Access and Virtual School Program. The bill addresses several aspects like calculating average daily attendance for full-time virtual students, providing state aid to host districts and more. It also allows host districts to contract with providers for necessary virtual education services.

“This package includes a lot of good things, not just public education, but also homeschooling. Included in this package is the recruitment and retention scholarship bill, as well as language that protects transportation funding for schools,” Representative Ed Lewis (R-Moberly) said. “This bill also addresses concerns raised by homeschoolers that by including them in the private school scholarship program, the 2nd Amendment rights of our homeschool educators may be infringed. HB 2287 as a companion bill addresses those concerns and preserves our home school educators’ constitutional rights.”

Officials said the legislation expanded in the Senate to include provisions meant to clean and clarify measures associated with SB 727. The changes include the return of the transportation trigger, and reconnecting funds for K-12 tax credit scholarships to state aid for public schools’ transportation. It also exempts Warsaw School District from the 4-day week.

With passage in both chambers, the Legislature said both bills are meant to make a lasting impact on the educational landscape of the state. The bill is now headed to Governor Mike Parson’s desk where they await his signature.