Missouri House Makes Progress on School Choice
On Wednesday, the Missouri House of Representatives passed HB 1589, a bill that would authorize four benevolent tax credits. The first would go to individuals who donate to organizations that help ex-offenders find employment. The next three are education-related and make tax credits available to individuals who donate to organizations that create education savings accounts (ESAs) for students with special needs; to individuals who donate to organizations that provide for unmet hygiene, hunger, and health needs of students; and to individuals who donate to organizations that provide private school scholarships for foster children.
Benevolent tax credits are not like economic development tax credits, policies that we here at SMI generally oppose. Rather than try (and often fail) to spur economic development, benevolent tax credits reward individuals who participate in civil society and work with non-governmental groups in their communities to solve problems. This is the type of behavior that we want to encourage, and the type of behavior that we often tax ourselves to support. If people are giving directly to an organization providing a social service, why not give them a break on their taxes?
Promoting school choice through funding vehicles like ESAs and tax credit scholarships has been a huge priority of ours here at the Show-Me Institute, and while these are small programs, they are a great first step to providing quality options for students across the state.
Following some of the rumblings on twitter, it appeared that the primary objection to HB1589 was that it would create “unconstitutional voucher programs.” That claim is doubly false. Because the programs rely on the donations of private individuals for which they get a tax credit and not direct public expenditure, they will not violate the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment. In fact, all across the country and at the U.S. Supreme Court, such approaches have been found to be constitutional. ESAs in particular are not vouchers. They are flexible-use spending accounts that allow families to spread funding among multiple providers to create an education tailored to exactly what their child needs.
School choice programs are often knocked for the perception that they take the best students from the public school system. HB 1589 supports programs designed to help students that our traditional public schools struggle to serve. If we will be judged by what we do for the least among us, advocating for better schooling for students with special needs and children in the foster care system seems to be pretty firm ground to stand on.
HB 1589 is now headed to the Senate. Here’s hoping that it continues to move forward.