Education Innovation Beginning in Show-Me State

Conn Carroll /

Legislators in Missouri are considering a promising school choice policy idea: an education tax credit program to fund scholarships for children who are eligible for special education. Under a plan approved by a Missouri House Committee, people and businesses could receive a tax credit for donations to non-profit organizations that fund private school scholarships. Eligibility for the scholarships would be restricted to children who have special needs.

This plan blends two successful policies that are working well in the states—scholarship tax credits and scholarship for special needs students. Today, five states—Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Rhode Island—have programs to offer tax incentives for people and/or businesses for donations to non-profits that fund tuition scholarship. These programs have proven to be very popular with taxpayers. For example, in Arizona last year, 73,000 taxpayers made scholarship tax credit donations, funding $50 million for scholarship.

Similarly, five states also have special needs scholarship programs. In Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Utah, children with special needs are eligible to receive tuition scholarships to attend private school. For example, in Florida, nearly 19,000 students were attending private schools through the McKay scholarship program as of November.

A survey of participating families in 2003 found that 93 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their children’s schools, compared with only 33 percent who were satisfied with the public schools that their children had previously attended

If the Missouri plan moves forward, the Show Me state would become the first to combine these two successful approaches. The result: taxpayers would have more control over how their tax dollars are used, and parents of special needs children would have more control over how their children go to school. That would be a win-win for taxpayers and families.

For more information on school choice programs across the nation, see this recent Heritage Foundation report. For more information on school choice in Missouri, visit the Children’s Educational Alliance of Missouri.