April 10, 2008 6 Comments
JEFFERSON CITY – A push to increase salaries for teachers is on life support after the House voted to strip out a tax credit scholarship program that could have allowed special-needs students to transfer schools.
The bill, which is the only piece of legislation sponsored by House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, would have raised the minimum salaries for teachers based on number of years of experience. It also would have allocated bonuses to teachers with certain amounts of experience or an expertise in subject like science or math.
But the bill also included a program – known as Bryce’s Law – that would have provided individuals with a tax credit for contributing to a scholarship program for special education students. Parents of these students could use the scholarship to transfer their children to private or public institutions.
Proponents of the legislation say the scholarship could allow students with disabilities to go to an educational institution that could assist them more comprehensively.
“It comes down to this – if you have special-needs children that can’t be educated in their local school district, what is the option for the parents of the child?” said Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia.
But opponents see the scholarship as a gateway to a broader school voucher program. They argue that no public money should be directed to help students go to private institutions.
“You’re taking public tax dollars and you’re putting it toward private schools,” said Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia. “The supporters of school vouchers are attempting yet another avenue to put their agenda forward. But a voucher is a voucher is a voucher.”
Ultimately, the House agreed to strip the scholarship out of the bill on Wednesday, 80-58. Robb was the only member of the Boone County delegation to vote to keep the program in the bill, while Harris, Rep. Paul Quinn, D-Monroe City, Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, and Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico voted to strip it out. The bill was subsequently laid over.
The House took up a tax credit bill last year that would have assisted in providing scholarships to students in unaccredited school districts. Those scholarships could have been used to go to private or public schools. But despite strong support from Gov. Matt Blunt and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the bill failed to get enough votes to pass.
Proponents of Bryce’s Law faced similar hurdles this year. While a number of Democrats – such as state Rep. Tom Villa, D-St. Louis City – support Bryce’s Law, numerous Republicans from rural school districts have balked. Numerous rural Republicans – including Rep. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, and Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thronfield – came out against the measure.
Hobbs – who voted for the tax credit bill last year – said schools in his district were strongly opposed to Bryce’s Law. Ultimately the three-term lawmaker, who has a daughter with special-needs, said he did not think Bryce’s Law was the right direction to go.
“After looking at what the people of my district thought and what our own experience was, I voted to leave it the way it was,” Hobbs said. “I think we need to do better for kids with special-needs in our schools… but I don’t think this is the way.”
House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, told the Associated Press that because the bill didn’t feature Bryce’s Law, it was not likely that Jetton’s bill would come back up. Jetton echoed Tilley’s assertion after the session wrapped up for the week, expressing doubts that the bill would come up again.
Here’s Jetton talking about the demise of his bill:
And here’s another video of Jetton responding to a common criticism that the push for tuition tax credit bills are driven by Rex Sinquefield’s campaign donations: