Drebes: Wish lists and a Rex Sinquefield lobbyist: Inside the state’s K-12 tax credit expansion

 In News

Drebes: Wish lists and a Rex Sinquefield lobbyist: Inside the state’s K-12 tax credit expansion

By Dave Drebes – publisher of the Missouri Scout, a private news service covering state politics

There are just a few weeks left in Missouri’s legislative session.

So far, this year has been largely fruitless. Last week, however, there was a flash of productivity. The legislature sent a massive education bill to the governor’s desk.

 As is often the hallmark of the legislative process, the huge bill has something for everyone to love – and hate.

At its core, it was a bill to expand MOScholars, a state tax credit program to help Missourians pay for private school tuition. It increases the budget of that program from $50 million to $75 million. And it indexes that cap to increase or decrease as the state’s aid to traditional public schools rises or falls.

But the bill became much more. It will impact every public school across Missouri in many different ways. It changes the definition of schools’ average daily attendance to trigger more state aid for all public schools; it mandates a minimum teacher salary of $40,000, and sets that figure to be adjusted according to inflation each year; it expands charter schools into Columbia; it adds new mechanisms to help recruitment and retention of teachers in “hard-to-staff schools”; and it institutes a requirement for a public vote before most districts can adopt a four-day school week.

Several St. Louisans were key in getting the bill across the finish line.

First, and foremost, was the bill sponsor, Sen. Andrew Koenig. When his bill to increase the tax credit program met resistance, he added pages and pages of new provisions. He won over, or just wore down, critics by adding their ideas and their wish list items to the bill. By the time it passed, his original 12-page bill had ballooned to become 167 pages long.

Koenig is term limited. He’s in his final days as a legislator. It’ll be a blow to the Senate to lose someone who is both a master listener and compromiser.

Kate Casas is one of Rex Sinquefield’s trusted lobbyists in the Capitol. She coordinated the efforts of education reform groups trying to pass the bill. Casas played the role like a baseball manager, making calls to her bullpen of advocates and lobbyists to tap the right person to go to talk to a teetering legislator. Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe was enlisted to lasso a couple of rural state representatives; gun rights maven Aaron Dorr’s opinion was sought to calm Second Amendment devotees who were concerned about one ambiguous piece.

Every vote counted. The House passed the bill with 82 votes, the bare minimum possible. The yes votes came almost entirely from Republicans.

But not entirely. Three Democrats joined them, all three from St. Louis: Reps. Steve Butz, and Marlene Terry from the city of St. Louis, and Rep. Chantelle Clark-Nickson from St. Louis County.

One lobbyist tells me that Terry and Senate Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin bonded as they worked to pass the bill in their respective chambers. That’s an odd pairing. A city Democrat and a rural Republican. O’Laughlin will likely be the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate for the next two years. As a Democrat in the lower chamber, that’s a very good friendship for Terry to have made, one that will pay dividends in the future.

The bill still must be signed into law by the governor. With an estimated annual cost of over $400 million, it’s possible that Parson will balk at the price tag. But proponents sound optimistic that he won’t jeopardize all the hard work it took to get the bill to his desk.

Contact Us

Would you like more information on our services?

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt