By Rep. Jay Barnes
What makes education ‘public’? Is it our commitment to school buildings and bureaucracies? Or is it our commitment to children?
I believe ‘public’ education should be about helping all children in our state achieve their highest possible level of success – whether those children attend public schools, private schools or are home-schooled.
In my legislative district, which includes parts of Jefferson City and Cole County, we are fortunate to have a rich mix of public, private and religious schools, as well as many parents who home school their children.
All of these schools add to the quality of life in Jefferson City and Cole County. It is no accident, for example, that this area has one of the best-educated workforces in the state of Missouri.
What would happen if there were only public schools? Well, it would certainly make Jefferson City and Cole County a less attractive place to live. This would be true not because the public schools in my area provide poor education, but because parents want options, just like people want options in their health care providers.
Educating children is not easy. For some children, the local public school is not a good fit. And some parents want their child to receive an education that is grounded in their religious faith.
There would be a fiscal impact, too, if our nonpublic schools closed down. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, statewide there are 83,682 nonpublic school students. If all of these students attended public schools, the state of Missouri would have to shell out an additional 815 million in tax dollars.
Other Midwestern states such as Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois recognize the sacrifices parents make when they educate their children in a setting other than a public school. These states offer tax deductions or credits for the K-12 expenses parents incur in educating their children.
I think it is time for Missouri to do the same thing. To help ensure families have better access to the education of their choice, I am sponsoring a bill in the Missouri General Assembly this year to allow parents a tax deduction for educational expenses related to attending K-12 school (public, private or religious) or home schooling.
HB 1133 would allow parents a deduction of up to $2,500 for each child for which they have expenses, such as school tuition, tutoring and school supplies, including computer software.
I believe all Missouri K-12 school parents should be able to educate their child in a school best suited for their children. One size (school) does not fit all. It is time we set aside public versus private school debates and put the educational needs of children first.
Jay Barnes is a state representative representing Jefferson City and parts of Cole County.