SB 531 - This act creates the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. For each qualified student, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will deduct an amount equal to ninety percent of the state adequacy target from the student's district of residence's state aid and place this money into an account for the parent to use for certain educational expenses.
A student is eligible to receive funds in a Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Account if he or she meets any of the following criteria: is identified as having a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; is identified as having a disability, as described in the act; is a child with a disability eligible to receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; is a ward of the juvenile court under certain circumstances; or is eligible to begin kindergarten. To be eligible, a student must also have attended a public school as a full-time student for at least the first one hundred days of the prior school year and who transferred from a public school under a contract to participate in the program or previously participated in the program. A child who is eligible to begin kindergarten is exempt from the requirement of prior public school attendance or prior program participation.
The student's parent or guardian may use the money in the account for the following purposes: tuition or fees at a qualified school; textbooks required by a qualified school; educational therapies or services; tutoring services; curriculum; tuition or fees for a nonpublic online learning program; fees for certain standardized tests; contributions to a 529 plan; tuition or fees at an eligible postsecondary institution; textbooks required by an eligible postsecondary institution; fees for management of the empowerment account; services provided by a public school; and insurance or surety bond payments required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary education.
The parent of a qualified student must sign an agreement to provide an education for the student in at least reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science, not enroll the student in a school operated by a district or in a charter school, release the district of residence from the obligation of educating the student, use the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Account money for only specified purposes, and not use the funds for computer hardware, transportation, or consumable education supplies. Each account holder must comply with a surety bond requirement, to be established by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education may retain up to five percent of the funds transferred for each student for administration purposes. Of this five percent, one percent will be used to cover the State Treasurer's costs.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must conduct or contract for an annual audit of accounts to ensure compliance. A parent or guardian may be disqualified from program participation, if after a hearing before the Commissioner of Education, the parent or guardian is found to have committed an intentional program violation. The Department may refer cases of substantial misuse of monies to the Attorney General.
This act creates the offense of savings account fraud, which is a Class A misdemeanor.
This program will sunset after six years unless reauthorized.