"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Missouri House Tables Teacher Bill, May be Unable to Come to Terms with Parent Demand for Special Needs Scholarships

April 14th, 2008 by mopns · No Comments

 A contentious battle in the Missouri legislature came to a head last week when an education compensation bill was set aside in the House. According to legislators, the education establishment’s setback was largely due to its inability to come to terms with parent demands for special needs scholarship tax credits.

A protracted floor debate ended in approval of an amendment that struck down language in HB 2040/2430 that would have provided tax credits for privately funded special needs scholarships. Eighty house members voted in favor of the amendment and 58 voted no. Twenty-three Representatives were absent or chose not to vote. Rep. Maynard Wallace, a former public school superintendent from southwest Missouri, offered the amendment.

HB2430, sponsored by Rep. Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City) and amended by Rep. Scott Muschany (R-Frontenac), and HB2040, which was sponsored by House Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill), aimed to increase teacher pay via bonuses, stipends and benchmarks. The bills additionally addressed special needs scholarship tax credits.

Included in the language was information originally contained in HB1886, which was sponsored by Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst (R-Manchester). Known as “Bryce’s Law,€ it was named after the legislator’s late grandson, who passed away in 2007 and was afflicted with autism. HB1886 was designed to amend chapter 135, RSMo, of Missouri’s

Revised Statutes on State Aid and would have added six new sections relating to tax credits administered by the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

More than 130,000 children in Missouri have special needs, and 100,000 of them need Individualized Education Plans (IEP). Most of these students require special classes, services and teachers. For many, their learning can be stifled unless their parents can align them with the teachers and programs that best address their particular challenges.

The addition of special needs scholarship language within HB 2040/2430 marks the first time in the history of recent politics that the parental choice movement has had its message included in an education establishment bill.

Although the language was pulled from the bill, Scharnhorst is proud of what was accomplished in this session. “To date, there were three positive committee votes to include special needs scholarships for further debate, a positive step not to be discounted for a first-year issue, he said. “Issues of this magnitude often take several years to fully mature, yet strong grass-roots action from engaged parents made this a top-tier issue in year one.”

Many parents of special needs children in Missouri are working diligently and passionately to get their children the finest education available for their special needs. Over the last few weeks, hundreds showed up at the Capital and contacted their legislators to register their support for the scholarship tax credit. For many, their ultimate goal is to mainstream their children as quickly as possible into a traditional public school format in their districts.

HB2040 and HB2430 also were supported by the Children’s Education Council of Missouri (CECM), a 501(c)4, not-for-profit organization that advocates for public policy which improves access to a quality education for all Missouri children.

Laura Slay, executive director of CECM, responded to the standstill by saying, “The sting of this loss is very real for hundreds of parents of special needs children. Given their unrelenting drive, passion and conviction, this setback will serve to strengthen their commitment and embolden their will. We hope that more of Missouri’s legislators begin to appreciate the urgent need for improving education for all Missouri’s children, especially those who are poor, disabled and in failing schools.

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