First Missouri school choice chief to put ‘passion into action’ in leading expansion

(The Center Square) – State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick on Monday named former Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) Community Finance Manager Kim Baughman to serve as the state’s first school choice program manager.

Baughman, with extensive experience supervising community savings and investment programs, will assume inaugural control of the newly-created Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program.

She will also oversee the Show-Me Checkbook, Missouri’s MOST 529 education plan and MO ABLE, the state’s savings and investment program for disabled people in the newly created position of Treasurer’s Office Director of Program Administration.

The Missouri General Assembly during their 2021 legislative session adopted a bill that, among other provisions, created the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, which will offer “empowerment scholarship accounts” (ESA) in a significant – but not as dramatic as initially proposed – expansion of school choice in the state with a first-year $25 million tax credit allowance.

House Bill 349, sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, creates Education Assistance Organizations, which collect donations that are then given to students as scholarships. Donors receive a 100% tax credit, which cannot exceed 50% of their tax liability for the given year.

The goal is to have the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program providing ESAs to applicants orchestrated by Education Assistance Organizations, or local nonprofits, by next school year.

Baughman’s “background in state government and implementing tax credit programs makes her the ideal fit for this new position,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “In creating this role, we sought to hire someone with the expertise to help launch this new program and provide dedicated oversight to the other valuable programs the office oversees.”

In her 15 years with DED, Baughman oversaw multiple tax credit and grant programs, including Neighborhood Assistance and Youth Opportunities programs and has participated in rulemaking with state agencies in implementing tax credit protocols.

Baughman said Monday she has already been identifying what 10 education assistance organizations will participate and developing an application process “to stand up the new program.”

“I am passionate about service and providing opportunities and resources to youth and families who are under-resourced and underserved,” Baughman said. “This position is a wonderful way to put this passion into action. I look forward to implementing this new program and working to make sure existing programs continue to serve Missourians.”

Under HB 349, the $25 million K-12 scholarship fund, tabbed MOScholars, provides state tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate or make contributions to nonprofit education assistance organizations to offer scholarships to attend a K-12 school outside their public school district.

“Over the past several months, my staff and I have been working to develop and put the new scholarship program into place and look forward to launching it as soon as possible,” Fitzpatrick said.

Under HB 349, ESA scholarships will first be issued to students with special education needs or who fall below 100% of the federal standards used to qualify students for free/reduced lunches, which means students whose families earn $48,000 or less (for a household of four) could be eligible.

ESAs can be used to help pay tuition, textbooks, tutoring services and other school-related costs and apply to taxpayers in areas with populations at or exceeding 30,000.

The original bill allowed ESAs statewide but after meeting fierce resistance, the proposal was scaled back to only apply to students in counties and cities over 30,000 people.

When the House first passed HB 349, it earmarked $50 million to seed the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. But the Senate amended that to $25 million in an unrelated bill, trimming back the number of students that could benefit next year from more than 7,000 to about 3,500.

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