Parson signs sweeping education bill targeting 4-day weeks, boosting private schools

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping education bill requiring voters to decide whether large school districts can shift to four-day school weeks and expanding a scholarship program for students to attend private or charter schools.

Parson, a Republican, on Tuesday touted a provision in the new law that raises minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $40,000 starting next year.

“I have and always will support Missouri teachers,” Parson said. “Since the beginning of our administration, we’ve looked at ways to increase teacher pay and reward our educators for the hard work they do, and this legislation helps us continue that progress.”

The legislation has faced criticism from the Independence School District, which last year became the largest school system in the state to try a four-day week in an attempt to entice staff.

It would require school districts in Jackson, Clay, St. Louis, Jefferson and St. Charles counties, or districts that serve more than 30,000 residents, to receive approval from a majority of voters in the district by 2026 in order to keep a four-day week or to begin offering it.

School board members under current state law can decide whether a district shifts to a four-day week. The legislation would not affect smaller districts in more rural parts of the state.

The legislation largely split lawmakers along party lines with some Democrats excoriating its high cost. It passed the House on a vote of 82 to 69 and passed the Senate on a vote of 19 to 10.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli, a St. Peters Republican who handled the bill in the House, said last month that the legislation was “taking care of parents.”

“A lot of parents got frustrated seeing their schools go to four days in big suburban communities when you need to get your kids to work,” Christofanelli said on the House floor.

Democrats were able to tack the provision regarding four-day weeks to the larger bill in the Senate.

Rep. Robert Sauls, an Independence Democrat running for state Senate, had filed a bill that included similar language in the House. He touted the bill’s passage in a statement on Tuesday.

“This issue is too important for voters to be shut out of the process,” he said.

The core of the Republican-led bill, filed by Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Manchester Republican, expands the tax-credit-funded scholarship program for private or charter schools. It also allows for charter schools to operated in Boone County, a controversial provision criticized by local school districts.

Parson’s signature marked a win for school choice advocates, who have for years pushed for greater access to non-traditional K-12 education such as private and religious schools.

It expands the Missouri Empowerment Scholarships, or MOScholars, program. The tax-credit funded program provides qualified K-12 students and their families with funding to attend a private or charter school.

The new law raises the funding cap — or the total amount of tax-credit eligible donations MOScholars can accept — from $25 million to $75 million. Previously, the funding cap had been allowed to grow with inflation, reaching a little over $27.5 million this year.

Democrats in both the House and Senate have criticized the high cost of the legislation, arguing that it could put the state budget in jeopardy. Several also argued that while the bill promised to help public schools, many of its provisions would require additional allocations from the General Assembly that aren’t guaranteed.