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Although the Blair Oaks R-2 Board of Education candidates support private schools, they each oppose a bill that would allocate state funds to private and charter schools.

Incumbents Tim Luebbering and Dale Verslues, as well as challenger Logan Gratz, are vying for two available seats on the board in the April 6 election.

The candidates discussed the bill and the district's funding picture, among other topics, Thursday during a virtual forum hosted by the News Tribune.

The Blair Oaks R-2 Board of Education recently adopted a resolution opposing Missouri Senate Bill 55, which would expand charter schools and change the distribution of state funds to schools.

If the bill passes, it would allow any school district located within a charter county or any city with more than 30,000 people to have a charter school, funded partly by public school districts. Charter schools in Missouri are currently limited to St. Louis and Kansas City.

It would also create a school choice tax credit scholarship that would allow parents to use state tax-credit vouchers to pay a child's tuition at a private school, and it would turn the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program into virtual charter schools, which would cut resident school district and professional educators out of the process.

All three candidates oppose this bill, even though they attended private elementary schools.

Verslues said he believes private education should be a family's choice and public tax dollars should be spent on public education. He and his children attended a private elementary school, but he believes the state needs to invest in public education.

"We need to make sure those dollars are spent well, and I think it's very important that that's our prime thing is to make sure they get a good public education," he said.

Gratz said he supports private schools and charter schools but doesn't see any benefit to redistributing public funds.

"Public education is a right to everyone," he said. "I feel if we start distributing that money elsewhere, especially at our school district where we have such little available funds, I feel that could put us back a little bit."

Luebbering said private schools are a valuable part of the education system, but he can't support a bill that would take money away from public schools.

"Parochial schools are a very important part of our education system, and they take pressure off of our public schools. But as most of us know, public schools are terribly underfunded as it is," he said.

He said this bill would negatively affect building projects and instructional materials.

"It's tough to make the dollars we get stretch to make sure we get a good education for the students we have," he said. "If we lose some of that money to the private schools, that's going to hurt."

Gratz said the biggest challenge in funding schools in the district is Wardsville doesn't have much commercial development. However, he said, there's not much the community can do to improve the district's funding picture.

"I think the residents of our district really appreciate the fact that we're one of the lowest tax rate school districts in the state," he said. "I don't feel we should start continually raising any type of taxes for that. I think it's just one of those things that comes with being in this location geographically."

Luebbering said it would be great if Wardsville could get more commercial development, but he doesn't see it happening, and the district needs to live within its means.

"We just have to tighten our belts and make sure that we get the use out of every dollar to our maximum potential, and sometimes that means doing without some of the nicer things," he said.

Verslues said the only thing the district can do to improve its funding picture is have high standards and look for the best value in everything.

"We're not going to get revenues from commercial business, so we've got to sell ourselves for what we are," he said. "The administration does a tremendous job of taking care of our tax dollars."

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