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Missouri S&T to distribute K-12 scholarships for private, homeschool students

Missouri University of Science and Technology campus.
Michael Pierce
Missouri S&T
Missouri S&T is a public higher education institution with public K-12 partnerships.

Missouri University of Science and Technology will grant K-12 scholarships through the state’s tax-credit-based program MOScholars beginning in the 2024-2025 school year.

A nonprofit within Missouri S&T will become the seventh educational assistance organization, or EAO, in the MOScholars program. EAOs receive donations through a process overseen by the state treasurer and remit the money into scholarships for private-school and homeschool expenses.

According to emails obtained by The Independent in an open records request, Stephen Roberts, vice chancellor of strategic initiatives for Missouri S&T, shared information about the program with other administrators as early as May, describing MOScholars as a “philanthropy opportunity/vehicle.”

He told The Independent on Wednesday that the program’s objectives align with the goals of the university and its partnered nonprofit, the Kummer Institute Foundation.

“Missouri S&T is a public land grant university, and as such has a responsibility to provide broad access to educational opportunities in the K-12 community,” he said in a statement. “The aims of the Missouri Scholars program have strong overlap with these objectives.”

Roberts wrote in a May 10 email that students could potentially use MOScholars’s $6,500 funding to pay for Missouri S&T camps or dual-enrollment programs.

Andrew Careaga, who leads the university’s communications, had the same impression in May after talking to the treasurer.

“State Treasurer Vivek Malek describes this program as an opportunity for individuals to earn tax credits by designating funds to scholarships for our summer camps if we were to become designated as an EAO,” he wrote in an email.

Roberts told The Independent that the K-12 scholarships only cover costs administered by a student’s school.

“The rules prohibit award of scholarships so that students can access educational programs offered directly by the EAO,” he said. “For a student to be awarded a scholarship, the educational programs must be offered directly by the eligible schools.”

But the idea of participating in MOScholars wasn’t enthusiastically received by all administrators.

Missouri S&T is a public higher education institution with public K-12 partnerships, such as Project Lead the Way — a program with STEM courses for high school students offering college credit. Beth Kania-Gosche, chair of the university’s department of teacher education and certification, wrote in an October email that she had a “PR concern” about participating in MOScholars.

“The other EAOs are all religious organizations,” she wrote. “We have to submit a fundraising plan as part of the application, and I have concerns about publicly connecting the STEM Center to fundraising for a controversial topic like school vouchers.”

“We partner with public schools on all of our programming,” she continued, “and if they have the perception we are raising funds for school vouchers, it’s problematic. “

Facilitators of the MOScholars program shy from the term “vouchers” because Missouri’s K-12 scholarships are not a direct state appropriation, although the program does affect state finance. Donations made to the program, because they receive a 1:1 tax credit, come out of the state’s general fund.

Colin Potts, Missouri S&T’s provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, replied to address Kania-Gosche’s fears, but it is unclear if any resolution was reached.

“Beth, I know that you had some concerns about the wisdom of being seen to be supporting schools that have a less than rigorous approach to STEM and that this could undermine your relationships with public schools,” he wrote. “We’ll do what we can to avoid any issues of this kind.”

The application listed 11 schools the university is willing to issue scholarships to, with the disclaimer that the “list may not be inclusive.” All but one of these schools are religious.

Roberts told The Independent the program allows EAOs to grant scholarships to students with expenses in any public or private school, not just those listed on the application.

“Our intent would be to award as broadly as possible under these rules,” he said.

The university will accept applicants from Cape Girardeau, Cape Girardeau County, Jefferson City, Cole County,
Springfield, Greene County,
St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Missouri S&T also plans to support homeschooled students, according to the application.

The 11 schools listed on the application are: Calgary Lutheran High School, Helias Catholic High School, Immaculate Conception, Nerinx Hall, Notre Dame Regional High School, Notre Dame High School,
St. Louis University High School, St. Peter Interparish School, St. Joseph Cathedral School,
Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School and Webster County Parochial #1.

Vivek Malek, incoming Missouri State Treasurer, stands at a podium. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson stands to the right of him.
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
“I am thrilled to see the number of educational assistance organizations participating in MOScholars is growing,” State Treasurer Vivek Malek said in a statement.

Email records show coordination between the university and the treasurer.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, the university’s vice provost and dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Education, wrote Oct. 30 Malek told the Missouri S&T to submit its application as though it was a nonprofit organization.

“(The Treasurer) said he would work to give us some grace period in terms of creating a 501c3 after the application,” Boroujerdi wrote.

The university submitted its application Oct. 31, the day it was due, writing that a nonprofit within Missouri S&T called the Kummer Institute for Student Success, Research and Economic Development will serve as the required 501c3.

Kummer Institute leaders were included in early conversations about the program, but the decision to use the nonprofit as the EAO vehicle seems to occur the day the application is submitted.

“Let’s submit the application under the Kummer Foundation which is a 501c3,” Alysha O’Neil, vice chancellor for finance and operations, wrote the morning the application was submitted.

Missouri S&T and the Kummer Institute Foundation requested $1million in tax credits for the 2024-2025 school year and plans to serve 136 students.

“I am thrilled to see the number of educational assistance organizations participating in MOScholars is growing,” State Treasurer Vivek Malek said in a statement. “We welcome the Kummer Institute Foundation and commend them for their interest in providing educational opportunities as an EAO.”

The MOScholars program is currently pushing for more funding as it faces a lag between the school year and donations, prompting some EAOs to loan their own money and increase fundraising.

Annelise Hanshaw is an education reporter for The Missouri Independent.