The Missouri Senate kicked off floor debate this week with a key piece of education legislation: Senate Bill 313. As tends to happen at this point in session, what started as a single-issue bill to provide Missouri families with greater choice and flexibility regarding their children’s education has grown to include provisions relating to student transfers, school district accreditation, school funding and more.
Senate Bill 313 creates education savings accounts (ESAs) for those children who often encounter difficulties when faced with an education system that does not take into account their individual circumstances and backgrounds — specifically, children who have a disability, foster children and children with a parent in active military service. The ESA funds can be used to cover the costs of multiple educational opportunities, including but not limited to private school tuition or fees, virtual education and tutoring or therapy services.
Here is how it works: for all tax years beginning on or after July 1, 2018, taxpayers may make a contribution to an education assistance organization and claim a tax credit for 100 percent of the amount contributed. The annual cumulative amount of tax credits is capped at $25 million. Those tax credits will then be used to fund scholarships that will be awarded to eligible children from the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. The scholarship funds will then be placed in each child’s personal Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Account. Although parents will be able to manage their child’s account, the funds can only be used for specific education resources. Furthermore, SB 313 only applies to current public school students.
At its core, SB 313 is about not just recognizing, but acting on the belief that every child deserves a quality education, regardless of the challenges they may face. Every child’s story is different, their background and circumstances unique. By default, this makes a one-size-fits-all approach to education counter-intuitive to success. Senate Bill 313 is an innovative school choice program that will give families the financial freedom to choose the right learning environment for their child, without creating any increased burden on Missouri taxpayers. Senate Bill 313 now heads to the House for further consideration.
In other legislative news, the Senate has also advanced to the House a measure that will make it easier for law enforcement to apprehend individuals who have violated a protection order. One of the problems we have with protection orders under current state law is they are very difficult to enforce. When a person violates a protection order, law enforcement must first be notified and then they actually have to catch the person in the act of violating the order.
Under Senate Bill 99, a court may place a person on electronic monitoring with victim notification if the person is charged with, or has been found guilty of, violating an order of protection. “Electronic monitoring with victim notification” is defined as a monitoring system that can monitor the movement of a person and immediately transmit the person’s location to the victim and local law enforcement when the person enters a certain area. Upon agreement of the protected individual, the person named in the protection order would receive a bracelet monitor. If he or she enters a protected area, it gets recorded and law enforcement can make an arrest. Senate Bill 99 will make it easier for our law enforcement to enforce orders of protection and, most importantly, provide increased protection and peace of mind for protected individuals.
Finally, current state law requires every individual who is 17 years old or older and is arrested for burglary, sex-related felonies and certain felonies committed against a person to provide a biological sample for DNA profiling analysis. Approved by the Senate today, Senate Bill 204 simply expands the current law to include every individual who is 17 years old or older who is arrested for any felony offense. For the 16 other states that have already done this, they have seen increases in both the number of cold cases solved and innocent people who have been exonerated.