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Missouri House narrowly sends private-school tax credit, charter expansion to governor’s desk

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

With GOP leaders barring amendments to a 153-page education bill approved by the Senate earlier this year, the House mustered just enough votes Thursday to pass the wide-ranging education bill that includes money to boost teacher salaries.

A massive education bill that expands a private school scholarship program and opens up Boone County to charter schools squeaked out of the Missouri House and to the governor’s desk on Thursday, winning the bare minimum number of votes needed for passage.

The 153-page bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester, is estimated to cost taxpayers $468 million when fully implemented. It passed 82-69 and heads to Gov. Mike Parson. Three Democrats joined with 79 Republicans in support of the bill, with 45 Democrats and 24 Republicans voting against.

State Rep. Phil Christofanelli, a St. Peters Republican, carried the Senate bill and sponsored the legislation in 2021 that created the tax-credit scholarships, called MOScholars.

He said during Thursday’s debate that the bill combines his interest in the MOScholars program with investment in rural schools.

“We put together a package that serves all the diverse interests in education,” Christofanelli said.

The original bill was 12 pages, but negotiations in the Senate led to the inclusion of over a hundred pages of education legislation.

“We’re all going to take a step together,” Christofanelli said Thursday. “This is the most substantive investment in public education that this state has ever seen.”

Lawmakers filed 53 amendments prior to the vote, but none were allowed by GOP leadership to offer them for consideration.

Rep. Paula Brown, a Democrat from Hazelwood, said during debate that the Senate was controlling the process.

“This is an esteemed chamber, and we’re acting like we don’t matter,” she said.

Christofanelli said the Senate had listened to concerns, and amendments were made to another bill Wednesday to smooth over issues with the larger package.

“My concern was that if I did those changes on this bill and sent it back into the Senate, it would get caught in the abyss and we would never have a law at the end,” he said.

He gathered input from key lawmakers, and delivered suggestions to the Senate. Then, Wednesday evening, the Senate introduced and passed a new version of Christofanelli’s bill on full-time virtual schools.

The House passed this second bill, with the fixes, after approving the larger education package.

Although the bill has measures to boost teacher salaries and school-district funding, Democrats had concerns. Many focused on the estimated cost.

“This is a bill that has some great, shiny things that we like in exchange for some really bad (things),” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat. “But as we’ve talked about, the real problem with this bill is the amount of money we have.”

Democrats from Boone County also spoke against the addition of charter schools in their community.

State Rep. David Tyson Smith, a Democrat from Columbia, called the bill “poison” to Boone County.

“Our schools are accredited. We don’t need this bill,” he said. “We are hanging on by a razor’s edge financially already. You bring charter schools into Boone County, which is what this bill specifically does, and it hurts us.”

As the final votes rolled in and the bill’s passage was assured, Koenig sat on the House dais, smiling as the bill he has called his top legislative priority made it across the finish line.