Missourians are gathering signatures to put a school-choice proposal on the November 2014 ballot. If they collect enough, voters will be able to choose whether to approve a 50 percent tax credit to individuals and businesses that donate to nonprofit organizations that “provide funds to improve programs in public school districts, provide scholarships for students to attend private or parochial elementary or secondary schools, or support special education services for children.”
The proposal is unique among school choice initiatives, said Mike Hoey, the executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, because it would allow the organizations to allocate the money raised toward three causes: public schools, nonpublic-school scholarships, and special needs programs.
“We’re optimistic,” Hoey said. “Oftentimes the benefits for public schools in school choice proposals are modest. But ours is not like that at all.”
Hoey says the nonprofit organizations will “easily” raise the cap amount of $90 million per year. Of the money raised, 50 percent would be reserved for public school programs, 40 percent for private school scholarships, and 10 percent for special needs programs.
“This is how you win in most states,” Hoey said. “People are committed to their local public schools. We’re trying to tap into that sentiment. Instead of pitting school funds against each other, we’re creating a partnership.”
The St. Louis Archdiocese donated $300,000 to Missourians for Children’s Education to develop the ballot initiative.
Missourians for Children’s Education must collect 220,000 to 280,000 signatures in six of Missouri’s eight voting districts.
The largest beneficiaries of the proposal will be young families with children in private schools and families with special-needs children. More than 100,000 children in Missouri attend private schools, 10 percent of Missouri’s K-12 population.
Initiative organizer Barbara Swanson says she filed the petition because hard economic times have sapped Missouri families. Public schools are struggling on anemic funding, and private tuition is increasing.
Something for Everyone
Swanson thinks effective communication will be the proposal’s greatest challenge.
“We have parts of the state that are more heavily Catholic,” she said. “It will be well received there. The other parts will be tougher.”
James Shuls, a Show-Me Institute education analyst, agrees the proposal is unique.
“Tax-credit scholarships for private schools regularly get opposition by people like public school officials,” he said. “This one is deliberately appealing to them, saying, ‘Look, you’re getting the bulk of these funds.’ This proposal might get opposition, but not as much opposition [as in the past].”
EducationPlus, a cooperative of Missouri school districts, recently released a paper opposing tuition tax credits because they help students leave public schools.
Shuls said he expects to see negative responses from organizations like EducationPlus and teacher unions, but he agreed the initiative’s goal to benefit numerous parties might be the most successful approach for school choice initiatives.
“It’s hopefully a collaborative effort working together to help all children in the state,” Swanson said.
Image by Elizabeth Jenkins.