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Missouri House passes bills on charter schools, vouchers, increasing teacher pay

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(The Center Square) – The Missouri House of Representatives on Thursday sent a pair of omnibus education bills to Republican Gov. Mike Parson for approval.

Senate Bill 727, passed by an 82-69 vote, increases the amount of tax credits for the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, allows charter schools in Columbia and increases minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $40,000.

“I’ve been here nine years and moving this education bill forward is a huge step from Missouri,” Speaker Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, and a candidate for his party’s nomination for secretary of state, told reporters during a press conference. “It protects public funding, it gives parents more choices and it increases teacher salaries. … It was kind partisan, but I want to thank the three Democrats who saw the light and wanted to help the teachers.”

There wasn’t anything shining in the 167-page bill, according to Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia.

“This is a dark day for Boone County,” Tyson Smith said. “Senate Bill 727 is devastating for Columbia and its public schools. Our schools are accredited. We don’t need this. And the people in Columbia and Boone County hate this idea. They don’t want charter schools. This was done from the outside and it would be great if the governor vetoes it.”

House Bill 2287 makes numerous and wide-ranging changes to how students can take virtual classes.

“I never believed when we started this session that this was in the realm of the possible,” bill sponsor Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, told reporters.

Christofanelli thanked Reps. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, and Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, former school administrators, for their support.

“When I first got here, I thought, I’m never going to agree with these guys on anything,” Christofanelli said. “But ultimately what I found is by trying to address their concerns and making them comfortable with the bill… we were able to put together a coalition of 82 votes that included everybody from suburban conservatives like me to rural guys and Democrats to come together and take a big step forward for Missouri children.”

Democrats weren’t unified against the bill, but Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said her caucus remains committed to improving public education.

“I really saw this bill as a moving of public money to private institutions,” said Quade, who’s running for her party’s nomination for governor. “I can tell you everyone in our caucus wants to have robust discussions around education reform. We want to have robust discussions about making sure that every child in our state, regardless of where they live, what they believe, what their education abilities are, if they need (individual education plans) or anything under the sun are having opportunity to be able to get that done. … Unfortunately, what we’re seeing from the Republicans is not a discussion of actual reform, but a discussion on moving money around.”

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