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Pressure Heats up over Scholarship Tax Credit Bill

Leaders in both the Missouri House and Senate announced early in the legislative session that helping the St Louis public schools would be a top priority this session. As KSMU's Missy Shelton reports, some lawmakers say they're being pressured to support a tax credit program for failing school districts that they find objectionable.

Most lawmakers agree that St Louis public schools are in trouble and need help. But they disagree when it comes to finding a solution to the district's problems.

The district is not fully accredited, has trouble retaining teachers, and its students consistently score low on state assessment tests.

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would give tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to scholarship programs for public school students. Qualifying students from the St Louis and Kansas City school districts could use those scholarships to attend private schools. Opponents of the bill call it a voucher system. Supporters say it's a way to help students in failing districts.

Republican Representative Charlie Denison of Springfield says he opposes the bill on several grounds: the potential for the bill to take money from other public schools and its band-aid approach to dealing with the problem.

Denison says he's faced a lot of pressure from bill supporters on his side of the aisle.

Denison says supporters of the bill crossed a line when they threatened to run an opponent against him in his next election.

But one of his fellow Republican lawmakers and chairman of the House Education Committee, Jane Cunningham had a different reaction to the tactics.

Cunningham, who represents portions of St Louis County is a longtime supporter of the tax credit bill.

She says the state must do something to improve education in urban areas.

The tax credit bill has cleared a House committee and is slated for debate on the floor.

Additional information: Representative Charlie Denison says he suspects bill supporters don't have enough votes to get the measure through the House and that's why they're using pressure and other tactics to garner the necessary votes. Bill supporters tell KSMU they're not sure where the vote count stands at this point.

  • View the tax credit bill on the Missouri House of Representatves' website