Rep. Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, is behind a bill which is designed to thrust the door wide open and allow school vouchers into Missouri.
Though the wording on Bearden's bill, HB 1873, limits it to the St. Louis, Kansas City and Wellston areas, no one is expecting things to end there. The bill was voted out of the Special Committee on Urban Issues March 16, the final day before the House's spring break, by a vote of 7-3.
And though Bearden is the bill's sponsor, its 23 co-sponsors include Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, Ron Richard, R-Joplin, Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, and Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City.
The bill would establish the Betty L. Thompson Student Success
Scholarships Tax Credit Program, and would authorize tax credits for those who donate money to the program, with the funds going toward $5,000 (approximately) scholarships.
The criteria for schools is mentioned in the bill summary:
"Eligibility standards for students receiving scholarships include a grade point average of 2.5 or less; residence in the St. Louis,Kansas City, or Wellston School District; attendance at a public school for the semester before a scholarship is granted or starting school in the state for the first time; and a family income of 135% of the level which qualifies the student for the reduced lunch program. Scholarship-granting organizations must meet requirements for fiscal soundness, percentage of revenues devoted to educational scholarships, and public reporting.
Private schools qualify to accept scholarship students by meeting requirements which include employee background checks and student assessments, among others. The substitute specifies how scholarship checks will be distributed. Scholarships may also be used at public schools outside the eligible school districts. If the scholarship student attends another public school, the accepting school must take the
educational scholarship funds instead of state funds owed to the accepting district."
I continue to be amazed that our politicians are willing to inflict rule after rule and requirement after requirement on public schools, but are willing to accept the notion that private schools offer a better education without requiring them to meet the same standards.
In an article in the March 22 Columbia Tribune, Kyle Farmer of the Missouri School Boards Association made the point perfectly. To quote from the article:
"The lack of accountability is one problem with using state funds for private education, Kyle Farmer of the Missouri School Boards Association told the audience.
Private schools are not subject to the stateÂs Open Meetings and Records Law, nor do they have to open their board meetings to the public, Farmer said. Students in private or parochial schools do not have to meet Missouri Assessment Program or No Child Left Behind Act standards. Private schools are not subject to independent or state audits, he said. 'When I pay taxes, I want to know where my money is going,' he said. 'Private schools spend money how they want and donÂt have to tell you about it.' "
However, it's not just private schools that spend money; it's also the lobbyists hired by the pro-voucher groups. Missouri Ethics Commission records indicate more than $1,000 was spent on wining and dining members of the Special Committee on Urban Issues during the 2005 calendar year when similar legislation was proposed, including:
-$420.40 for meals on Feb. 16 from Kent Gaines, lobbyist for K12, which advertises itself as an organization that "provides a solid home-based education."
-$180 for meals a week later from Cheryl Dozier, who represents the Alliance for School Choice and the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation. That foundation added a more high-powered lobbyist this year who doesn't have to spend a cent to get what he wants, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt's younger brother Andrew. The Friedman Foundation, founded by theconomistst Milton Friedman, first began the voucher movement in the 1950s.
-$340.50 for meals on March 9 from Edward R. Martin Jr., lobbyist for Advocates for School Choice and Alliance for School Choice.
The lobbying for the 2006 legislative session began in the fall when Francis Flotron, who represents Edison Schools bought $162.35 in meals for the committee on Oct. 11.
Two other lobbyists with connections to Wal-Mart, whose owners are known to be among the biggest financial backers of vouchers spent more than $1,200 on meals, food and beverage for the committee during a two-day period, Oct. 25-26, according to Ethics Commission records, though no expenses were shown for Wal-Mart on their disclosure forms.
William A. Gamble paid $1,053.30 for meals on Oct. 25, with another lobbyist at his farm, Gamble & Schlemeier, Sarah Topp, spending $175.71 for meals the next day.