SB 160 - This act establishes the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program.

For all fiscal years beginning on or after July 1, 2020, a taxpayer may make a qualifying contribution to an educational assistance organization and claim a tax credit, as described in the act. The tax credit is for 100% of the amount of the contribution and the amount of the tax credit claimed shall not exceed 50% of the taxpayer's state tax liability for the tax year for which the credit is claimed.

Tax credits authorized under the program may not be transferred, sold, or assigned, and are not refundable. The annual cumulative amount of tax credits is limited at $50 million, which shall be adjusted for inflation. The Department of Revenue shall establish a procedure to allocate the tax credits to the educational assistance organizations on a first come, first served basis. The Department may reallocate those tax credits to educational assistance organizations that have used all, or a certain percentage, of their tax credits. (Section 135.713)

An educational assistance organization shall meet certain requirements, including notifying the Department of its intent to provide scholarship accounts; being a 501(c)(3) organization; providing a receipt to taxpayers for contributions; ensuring that funds are used as specified in the act; distributing scholarship payments four times per year in an amount not to exceed the state adequacy target; providing the Department, upon request, with criminal background checks on all employees and board members; and demonstrating financial accountability and viability, as described in the act.

Each educational assistance organization shall publicly report to the Department, by June first annually, the name and address of the organization, the name and address of each student who opened a scholarship account, the total number and dollar amount of contributions during the previous calendar year, and the total number and dollar amount of scholarship accounts opened during the previous calendar year. (Section 135.714)

The Department shall provide standardized forms for program participants. The Department or State Auditor may conduct an investigation of any educational assistance organization if it possesses evidence of fraud. In addition, the Department may bar an educational assistance organization from participating if the organization has failed to comply with program requirements.

The Department shall issue a report on the state of the program five years after it goes into effect.

The act also creates the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Fund. No more than 2% of qualifying contributions may be deposited into the fund for marketing and administrative purposes. (Section 135.716)

The provisions of the Missouri Sunset Act shall not apply to the program.

A student is eligible to receive funds in a Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Account if he or she is an elementary or secondary school student who is a resident of Missouri and resides in a county with a charter form of government or a municipality with a population greater than 30,000.

The student's parent shall only use the money in the account for certain expenses related to the qualified student's education, as described in the act.

The parent of a qualified student shall sign an agreement with an educational assistance organization to enroll the qualified student in a qualified school to receive an education for the student in certain subjects; not enroll the student, other than a student that is in the custody of the state, in a school operated by the qualified student's district of residence or in a charter school; release the district of residence from the obligation of educating the student while the student is enrolled in the program; use the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Account money for only specified purposes; and not use the funds for consumable education supplies or tuition at a private school located outside of the state.

The scholarship accounts are renewable on an annual basis upon request of the parent of a qualified student. A qualified student shall remain eligible for renewal until the student completes high school. If a qualified student withdraws from the program by enrolling in a school other than a qualified school, or is disqualified from the program for violations specified in the act, the scholarship account shall be closed and any remaining funds shall be returned to the educational assistance organization for redistribution to other qualified students. When a student withdraws from the program, the responsibility for providing an education for that student transfers back to the student's district of residence.

The funds remaining in the scholarship account at the end of a school year shall remain in the account for the following school year. Any funds remaining in the account after graduation shall be returned to the educational assistance organization for redistribution to other qualified students. If a qualified student moves out of a county with a charter form of government or a municipality with a population greater than 30,000 before the end of the school year in which they were participating in the program, the student will remain eligible for participation in the program until they graduate from high school.(Section 166.705)

Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, the Department shall conduct or contract for an annual audit of accounts to ensure compliance. A parent may be disqualified from program participation if the Director of the Department of Revenue determines that the parent is found to have committed an intentional program violation. The Department may refer cases of substantial misuse of moneys to the Attorney General. (Section 166.710)

A person commits a Class A misdemeanor if they are found to have knowingly used moneys for any purposes other than those set forth in the act. (Section 166.715)

This act is similar to SB 612 (2018), SS#2/SCS/SB 313 (2017) and to provisions contained in SCS/SB 32 (2017), SB 609 (2016), SB 531 (2015), and HCS/HBs 1589 & 2307 (2016).


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