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Missouri education package establishes long-time priorities, stomping smaller bills

Posted on Thursday, June 20, 2024 at 2:55 pm

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, answers questions about his bill that would expand MOScholars during a press conference Thursday (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Just two education bills passed out of Missouri’s legislature this year out of 338 proposals, a result of a ‘fine-tuned’ negotiation


By Annelise Hanshaw

Missouri Independent


During Missouri’s 2024 legislative session, 338 bills addressing education were filed: a mix of proposals to change curriculum, increase funding, boost oversight and others.

The House appeared poised to expedite more K-12 legislation by forming a Special Committee on Education Reform in addition to its usual Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

Chair of the existing education committee Rep. Brad Pollitt, a Republican from Sedalia, told The Independent that the beginning of session was “hot and heavy” for his bill dubbed open enrollment.

The bill, which sought to allow students to enroll in neighboring school districts that opt into the program, passed the House for the fourth year in a row.

But soon, it was “radio silence,” as he describes it, for his bill.

Pollitt’s bill, like many others, died behind closed doors as lawmakers negotiated what would become just two education bills signed into law this year.

The vehicle

One of the themes among the few hundred bills filed on education was the expansion of tax-credit scholarships for private schools, a program called MOScholars in Missouri.

MOScholars allows taxpayers to donate up to half of their tax burden to scholarship-distributing nonprofits and get a refund come tax time. The nonprofits, who report to the State Treasurer’s Office, give the money to private schools they partner with. Currently, the program is only in the state’s most populated areas.

Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Republican from Manchester, proposed to open MOScholars statewide and allow wealthier families to qualify for the scholarships. He also sought to raise the cap on tax credits for the program.

When his bill made it to the Senate floor, Democrats held a lengthy filibuster, and negotiations began. The closed-door deal brought the originally 12-page bill to over 150 pages.

Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat, was a key negotiator for Senate Democrats. She told The Independent that large education changes in Missouri seem to require an omnibus bill, and her job was about balancing policies her caucus favored with changes others demanded.

“I think as a result of this law, what our schools are capable of and the support we are giving our teachers will hopefully be better as a result of some of the changes we’ve made,” she said.

Her priority was changing the formula that funds public schools. A provision added in negotiations will change a multiplier in the formula to slowly switch from funding based on just attendance to splitting between attendance and enrollment. A study commissioned by the state’s education department last year recommended an enrollment-based funding model.

The change to 50% attendance and 50% enrollment is estimated to bring an additional $47 million annually to public education, according to the fiscal note.

“I am sure there were great bills that tackled smaller problems,” Arthur said. “But in terms of really trying to address some of the major issues, these were the right provisions to do that.”


Pollitt was part of the negotiations, too. Although he has spent years refining his open-enrollment legislation, he knew it wouldn’t make it onto Koenig’s bill. He said his bill “wasn’t a priority on either side of the aisle.”

“The side of the aisle that I’m on wanted educational choice that was more extensive than open enrollment, and the other side of the aisle didn’t want any school choice necessarily,” he said.

He said Senate Democrats could stomach the expansion of MOScholars, since it was already available in Democratic areas, but wouldn’t sit down for a new program in their areas like he was proposing. Arthur confirmed this to be true, adding that the new law’s expansion of charter schools into Boone County was unfavorable but was a long-time priority for Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden—a Republican from Columbia who has announced his retirement from state politics.

When the House was ready to debate Koenig’s bill on the floor (now loaded with the caucuses’ priorities), movement on other K-12 education bills stopped. Some of the bills didn’t move because they were completely incorporated into the larger education package, but others lacked support.

“In order to move that big bill, there was a lot of political capital spent on that,” Sen. Jill Carter, a Granby Republican, told The Independent.

She attempted to place her educational priority onto the bill after Senate leaders had completed negotiations and distributed the thick stacks of the legislation.

Her bill sought to remove school accreditation authority from the state’s education department by allowing school districts to use nationally recognized accrediting agencies instead. It also proposed replacing the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP test, with a summative assessment “that meets federal requirements.”

The legislation received bipartisan support in committee and passed unanimously, but the committee’s vote was never reported on the Senate floor—a step required to come up for debate.

When she attempted to add it as an amendment to Koenig’s bill post-negotiations, she was advised against unbalancing the education package.

Sen. Curtis Trent, a Springfield Republican, told her the bill was “highly negotiated.” He had filed a bill that also sought to change the way school accreditation is done in Missouri, though his approach focused on performance and growth scores. His proposal would focus more on standardized testing, whereas Carter’s had a decentralized approach.

“This is a highly crafted, highly balanced, fine-tuned piece of legislation,” Trent said on the Senate floor. “Inserting it like this in the 11th hour … risks derailing this very important piece of legislation in a way that I don’t believe is fair to the underlying bill sponsor and everyone involved in the process.”

He indicated that he had an amendment to Carter’s legislation, and she withdrew her bill.

Arthur said she didn’t see enough support behind Carter’s bill, so it wasn’t likely to pass.

Both Carter and Pollitt are planning to refile their legislation.

Arthur, who has termed out of the Senate, said she recommends watching how new laws affect education before passing more large changes.

“(Koenig’s bill) is a major education omnibus bill, and it contains a lot of provisions that can shape and reshape education in Missouri,” she said. “I would recommend that the legislature let those things get fully implemented and see how they’re working before moving forward with anything else as substantial.”