All of the groups interested in collecting and distributing the new Missouri Scholarship Funds for Private Schools have religious affiliations, according to the state treasurer’s office.
The application process to help run the MOScholars program signed last year closes March 11. Groups that have indicated their intention to become “educational aid organizations” starting next fall include:
- Agudath Israel of Illinois, part of Agudath Israel of America, “the arm and voice of American Orthodox Jewry” that “advocates for its constituents at the federal, state, and local levels (to) provide social, educational, and to youth,” according to its website.
- Children’s Tuition Fund, a branch of the Association of Christian Schools International, based in Colorado, operating in seven states with tax credit scholarship programs, including Illinois.
- Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph Bright Futures Fund.
- The Herzog Foundation, endowed by the late Missouri businessman Stanley Herzog. The foundation was launched in 2020 “to catalyze and accelerate the development of quality, Christ-centered K-12 education so that families and culture will flourish,” according to its website.
- Missouri District of the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Missouri.
- Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, based at the Cardinal Rigali Center in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to raise scholarship funds that go primarily to students in Catholic schools.
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It is unclear how many applicants will be approved. Six of the eight scholarship-giving organizations in Illinois’ similar tax credit system approved in 2017 have religious affiliations, though the largest, Empower Illinois, is secular.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state programs providing funds to private schools cannot exclude religious schools, the state “could still impose religiously neutral rules that prevent discrimination,” said Bruce Baker, professor of educational theory, policy and administration at Rutgers University. .
In practice, scholarship or voucher programs amount to state-sanctioned discrimination, Baker said.
More than 80 Florida private schools that accepted the vouchers in 2019 had policies allowing students to be expelled based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“Most of these states that have gone this route to allow conservative Christian schools access to voucher programs, they like what these schools are doing and have no interest in regulating them,” Baker said.
The MOScholars program allows residents to receive a credit of up to 50% of state tax for donations to educational aid organizations. The groups will then award annual scholarships of up to $6,375, prioritizing students with special needs or from low-income families. Eligible students can apply for scholarships to begin in the 2022-2023 academic year.
the state treasurer’s office is expected to release its rules in early March on how the program will be run.
In its first year, the program could add up to $25 million less in tax revenue, which would instead be diverted to private schools and education businesses that aren’t subject to public records laws. and state surveillance. Scholarships can only be awarded to students from charter counties or cities with a population greater than 30,000, including the city of St. Louis and the counties of St. Louis, St. Charles, and Jefferson.
By law, private schools must not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin to be eligible for scholarship funds. Participating private schools will not be required to change their admissions policies or curriculum.
State Representative Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, who sponsored the bill last year, said it was too early to comment on which groups would run the program. He said the law protects against religious discrimination by education aid organizations.
“It’s pretty well established in US law that you can’t discriminate for immutable characteristics like religion,” he said.
Under federal law, religious groups, including schools, can discriminate in hiring decisions and implement denominational policies for student registration and tuition. Schools are also exempt from protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ultimate goal of the program is to give families access to more options in a variety of school types, said Peter Franzen, associate executive director of the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, which is funded by the advocate for choice. school Rex Sinquefield. The parent advocacy group held information sessions and received approximately 1,500 inquiries about the program.
“At the end of the day, it’s about parents being able to enroll their child in a school that works for them,” Franzen said. “We know there are families who will want this, and we want to get it to them as soon as possible.”