JEFFERSON CITY — Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof announced Tuesday that he wants to use private donations to help pay for teacher bonuses and student scholarships in Missouri's urban school districts.
Hulshof's urban education plan adopts elements similar to those in legislation that has been debated but never approved by the state legislature. The proposal calls for awarding tax credits to entice private donations that would then be used to pay for salary bonuses for high-performing teachers and scholarships to cover tuition or tutoring for students. The plan would apply only to Kansas City and St. Louis, although Hulshof left open the possibility of expanding the bonuses portion to other parts of the state.
The bonuses would be funded through a combination of private donations and state money. A spokesman for Hulshof's campaign said a series of objective standards would be set up to determine who deserves the pay boost.
Spokesman Scott Baker said one idea is to test students at the beginning and end of a school year and reward teachers whose students improve the most. Hulshof also has called for using bonuses to attract more teachers for math and science, and the performance-based salary boost would come on top of that.
Lawmakers for several years have considered bills that are similar to the student scholarship portion of Hulshof's plan. In 2007, the House rejected a version that had the support of Gov. Matt Blunt and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. That plan would have given tax credits to those who donate to nonprofit groups that provide student scholarships.
But teachers' unions, school boards and other public education groups have opposed the idea, saying it would redirect state funds to private schools.
Hulshof said in a written statement that Missouri's urban school districts are struggling and new steps are needed to ensure that the students there are properly educated.
"The quality of education received by a student should not be dependent upon that child's ZIP code," he said. "The problems facing our urban school districts have been going on for too long. This has resulted in generations of students being cheated out of their chance to achieve their goals and dreams."
Hulshof, a congressman from Columbia, faces Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon in the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election.
Oren Shur, a spokesman for Nixon's campaign, said in a written statement that the attorney general wants to offer tax incentives to spur donations that help public schools. Shur said Hulshof's plan would use public funds to help private schools.
Shur said that Nixon would also work to reduce the class sizes and establish loan forgiveness, bonus pay and other financial incentives to help recruit teachers.
"Instead of using taxpayer dollars for private schools, Jay Nixon believes we must encourage business leaders and other individuals to invest in our public schools," Shur said.
Hulshof announced his urban education plan in Kansas City. The announcement had been initially scheduled for Monday but was delayed so Hulshof could vote in Congress on a proposed $700 billion federal economic bailout plan.