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New Missouri scholarship program could allow tuition at private schools to be paid

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Education has been a big topic in Missouri’s Capitol this week as the Senate debated a large education reform bill overnight Tuesday and the House perfected legislation creating a new scholarship program.

The Senate spent nearly 12 hours debating and failing to vote on a bill that included this scholarship program Tuesday, but on Wednesday, it was the House’s turn. Lawmakers say it’s a conversation that’s been going on in the statehouse for years.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters) is the sponsor of House Bill 349, better known at the “Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program.” This program would allow students in Missouri to attend a school of their choice with tuition paid for.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Christofanelli said. “We will still have problems in our education system after we pass this, but for a lot of children, it will make a real difference.”

The program would allow certain nonprofits to raise funds and in exchange for their donations, give tax credits up to 100% of their donation amount.

“Nonprofit groups, known as education assistance organizations, those organizations will register with our state treasurer’s office and they will be able to raise money for the purpose of issuing scholarship accounts to children in need across Missouri,” Christofanelli said.

Democrats pushed against the bill, saying there were no negotiations from Republicans on this legislation.

“We all, all 163 of us want to help kids the best way we can and sometimes we have different way to go about it,” Rep. Ian Mackey (R-St. Louis) said. “We’ve got to do better at working together in a meaningful and productive way.”

Tax credits would be capped at $75 million under the proposal. During Wednesday’s debate, Christofanelli added an amendment that would limit who’s eligible for the scholarship. Only students living in a city with a population of 30,000 or more would be able to apply.

“Unfortunately, in many rural districts, unfortunately the public school is the only place to go,” Christofanelli said. “There may not be a private school that you can send your kid too.”

That addition to the bill did not sit well with others.

“How do I now go back to them [my district] and say, ‘Well, I voted for it, some of you liked it, some of you didn’t, but the bottom line, you get no advantage of it,’” Rep. Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville) said.

Rep. Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson) called the bill an experiment, with the target being urban areas.

“If it’s good enough for your children, then you do it where you live, but don’t sit here on your high horse and say you’re going to help the poor kids,” Proudie said. “If it’s not good for your community and your kids, it’s not good for mine. So, stop using poor kids and black kids to experiment on. We pay taxes too.”

St. Louis Democrat Rep. LaKeySha Bosley offered an amendment the tied the scholarship program to the K-12 transportation line item in the state budget. Her proposal requires 40 percent of the line item to be funded by the state, giving her votes from both sides of the aisle.

The scholarship could be used for other things than tuition, like transportation, tutors and school supplies. Christofanelli said the measure would also put students who live at the poverty level to be at the front of the line for the scholarship.

The bill needs final approval from the House before moving to the Senate.

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Flu case numbers plummet amid coronavirus pandemic

SOUTHWEST MISSOURI — Coronavirus is at the forefront of everyone’s minds — but a different virus has been seeing a drop in cases.

How does the flu compare this year to year’s past? Doctors say the flu numbers have been non-existent this year. Freeman Health System doctors say they have been treating less flu and patients.

Joel Dermott, Administrator Barton County Health Dept., said, “The flu is nonexistent more and less not only in this part of the state and statewide if you look at national trends it’s very much the same.”

The Barton County Health Department says there have been only 1,200 cases of the flu in the state of Missouri from the 2020 to 2021 flu season, which is a dramatic drop.

“Compared to this time last year there was 44,000 so we are seeing dramatic decreases of flu not just in Southwest Missouri, but statewide and if you look at national numbers. If you look at numbers for other states and they are very much the same as what we are experiencing.”

Doctors at Freeman Health System say people changing their behavior is helping lower flu cases.

Rob McNab, Director of Covid Services, said, “The things we can point to are human behaviors. I think the masking, I think the social distancing, and I think the real emphasis on hand hygiene has made the biggest difference. I don’t think the flu patterns the way that it spreads across the world has changed.”

Doctor McNab says he and other physicians have also noticed a drop in other respiratory issues.

“The number of emphysema flare ups and other respiratory issues that typically we deal with in Fall and Winter long have also been extremely light.”

Doctor McNab says he has only admitted one flu patient this season compared to 10 to 20 during a normal flu season. He says to keep flu numbers low in the future — at risk patients with chronic bronchitis or emphysema should wear masks throughout the flu season.

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Joplin Board of Education voices disapproval of school funding bills to lawmakers

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin Board of Education is speaking out against various house and senate bills that would redirect public school funding.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting the board voted four to three to send a letter to legislators about education bills. The school board is telling legislators they want to keep local property, sales, and income tax in Joplin.

The Joplin Public Schools Superintendent Doctor Melinda Moss says she wants public funds to be held to high accountability standards if they are being given to private entities.

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Carthage students and parents craft belated Valentine's Day cards for seniors

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Students and parents in an area school district have been on a mission to make some special cards for seniors in their community.

Blake and Brady Cloud are among a host of students in the Carthage school system that spent part of their snow days making valentine cards for residents.

Blake Cloud, Carthage 5th Grade Student, said, “The past few weeks I’ve understood you know how much the senior citizens are dealing with you know with not seeing people, I, I, always get kind of sad whenever we’re walking by and we see someone waving in the window.”

Brady Cloud, Carthage H.S. Sophomore, said, “A lot of senior citizens have not been able to receive love and Valentine’s from people that they love, and with all the kids, all the pre-schoolers making Valentine’s for them it will help put a smile on their faces during these troubling times.”

The idea for the cards came from St. Luke’s Board Member Scott Goade, who’s wife runs the parents as teachers program in Carthage. She put it on the P.A.T. Facebook page and it went viral throughout the school system from there.

Scott Goade, St. Luke’s Board Member, said, “The original idea was to reach out for our St. Luke’s residents, had no idea that this was going to explode into such a remarkable community outreach, it’s been said before that we can’t wait to see the faces and the smiles from just this simple community project of outreach.”

Now obviously these greetings were supposed to have been delivered by Valentine’s Day, but Mother Nature just wouldn’t cooperate.

In the end, there were enough cards to deliver them to all senior facilities in town. Helen Hubbard is one of the residents in St. Luke’s and says she doesn’t mind a bit if the cards are a few days late, she says it’s the thought that counts.

Helen Hubbard, St. Luke’s Nursing Home Resident, said, “It just gives you a little thrill that there are people and children, it’s fun.”

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Webb City Public Library lengthens hours

WEBB CITY, Mo. — The Webb City Public Library is extending its hours and loosening coronavirus precautions.

The library is switching back to its normal hours starting Monday because of the slow decline in coronavirus numbers. They will still have social distancing and advise everyone wear masks, but they will stop quarantining returned items.

Jake Johnson, Library Director, said, “We’re not going to be quarantining materials anymore because there’s been multiple studies that its not contracted off of surfaces its just an airborne virus.”

He says the library hopes to bring back more in house programming for families in the Summer. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday the library will be open nine in the morning until five p.m. And Tuesday and Thursday, it will be open from eight in the morning until eight p.m.

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Southwest City middle school students help patients at Arkansas Children's hospital

SOUTHWEST CITY, Mo. — Some local middle school students are learning how to do some good for others.

Natalie Cejudo, 8th Grade, said, “Like when I started it I thought it was going to be hard because I never did it, but then I got the hang of it.”

Students in Southwest City who are part of the home economics class weren’t able to cook or do normal activities. Now they found a way to make homemade hats for infants and toddlers at the Arkansas Children’s Northwest Hospital in Springdale.

“I feel like this is important because they like need something and how the pandemic is going probably the parents won’t be able to buy their kids something and I feel like they could appreciate this and we can learn this experience to help other people too.”

Students use round plastic looms material and there are many tools that the kids have to use to make these creations.

“We use a loom, needle, and my hands.”

Most of the kids didn’t know how to knit and they can share their skills and teach their families at home.

“Yeah my grandma. She knows how to do it and I help her sometimes.”

Teachers want students to learn not just how to knit but to help others in the process.

Elaine Ankins, Home Economics Teacher, said, “We do it because 7th and 8th graders are pretty egocentric time in our lives and we need to do things for other people so in doing–in knowing that we need to do things for other people we make these hats and donate them so they are learning a skill and learning that it feels good intrinsically to give to others.”

Students have even made fabric masks, and hope to continue helping families in need.

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Children's Center to hold virtual auction

JOPLIN, Mo. –A local non-profit is holding a virtual auction in lieu of its annual gala.

The Children’s Center in Joplin is hosting its first-ever virtual auction – and it officially kicks-off in a matter of hours.

The bidding begins at 2 a.m. Thursday morning and runs through the weekend. Development coordinator, Lori Jones says there are items for just about everyone in the family – and the decision to go virtual, was really the smart thing to do.

Lori Jones, Development Coordinator, Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri, said, “We really just felt putting public safety at the forefront was a great decision, so this is our first ever virtual online auction, and hopefully we’ll be back in person for our 25th gala.”

The bidding closes Sunday night at 9.

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Northpark Mall lockdown lifted after reports of active shooter

JOPLIN, Mo. — Authorities have lifted a lockdown for a local mall following reports of a possible active shooter.

Northpark Mall was reportedly under lockdown late this morning after calls alleging an active shooter was near the premises.

After securing the area around 11:00 AM, JPD found no threat to the businesses.

JPD is expected to release a statement later on this story, and we will update this story with more information as it becomes available.

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House of Reps to vote on Equality Act

The House of Representatives are set to vote Thursday on the Equality Act, which if passed would prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act is a bill President Biden said he would sign in the first 100 days of office

The Equality Act was introduced last week by House democrats, according to NPR. NPR wrote that this bill is “controversial,” as it has House democrat support but opposition from republicans. Conservative republicans view that the Equality Act infringes on their religious objects, while democrats see the bill as expanding protections of those within the LGBTQ community, according to NPR. 

NPR reported that President Biden spoke his support of the bill last week, stating all people should be treated with the same respect. Biden also released an official White House statement on February, 19.

“I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation,” Biden wrote. “Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.” 

WHAT IS THE EQUALITY ACT? 

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which banned discrimination based on race, religion, national origin—so it explicitly prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to USA Today. NPR described the bill that it would “explicitly enshrine those nondiscrimination protections into law” rather than allowing them to be brushed under the umbrella term “sex.” Additionally, the bill would also “substantially expand those protections.” 

NPR further expanded that while the Civil rights Act covered areas like employment and housing, the Equality Act would expand to cover federally funded programs and “public accommodations,” such as retail stores or stadiums. Under this umbrella term “public accommodations,” it also expands further to include prohibiting discrimination based on race and religion, just as the Civil Rights Act does. 

USA Today reported that while several states already have anti-discrimination laws in place, advocates like the Human Rights Campaign retort that the “patchwork” of today’s laws across the states leave “LGBTQ Americans vulnerable to discrimination.” According to NPR, the Equality Act would cover states that do not already have LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws in place, as this bill is national. 

While last June the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clay County, extending workplace protections to LGBTQ individuals, activist groups state that the Equality Act would “create explicit federal protections for LGBTQ Americans beyond the workplace,” according to USA Today. 

Supporters state that the Equality Act “simply extends basic, broadly accepted tenets of the Civil Rights Act to classes of people that the bill doesn’t explicitly protect,” NPR reported. Additionally, they state that this bill would solidify protections that could otherwise be left to interpretation. 

The main issues for those in opposition to the bill is the question of religious freedom, NPR said. 

NPR reported that the Equality Act also “explicitly” states that it takes precedence over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The RFRA is a law that was passed in 1993 that raised the bar for the government to defend individuals who claimed certain laws infringed on their religious freedom, according to NPR. They explained that under the Equality Act “an entity couldn’t use RFRA to challenge the act’s provisions, nor could it use RFRA as a defense to a claim made under the act.” 

COULD THE BILL PASS? 

In 2019 a bill similar to the Equality Act was passed by the House but died in the then republican-controlled Senate, USA Today reported. At the time, it was a unanimous vote for democrats and an additional eight republicans who voted for the bill to pass. USA Today wrote that it is expected that all House democrats will vote to pass the bill, but currently “no Republicans have co-sponsored this year’s version of the legislation.” 

According to USA Today, House republican leaders have recommended GOP lawmakers vote against the Equality Act, but are not pushing them, calling it a “vote of conscience.” 

USA further reported that it is “very likely” that the bill will pass the democratic-controlled House, but it “faces uncertain future” in the Senate. If the Equality Act passes the House, it would then need 60 votes in the Senate—this would mean all Senate democrats and an additional 10 Senate republican votes to pass. 

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Joplin mask ordinance set to expire February 28th

JOPLIN, Mo. — The mask ordinance put in place by the Joplin City Council late last year is set to expire at the end of February.

The mandate came into effect on November 19th last year after a vote of six in favor and three against.

Multiple local area health organizations urged local officials, and Mayor Ryan Stanley to consider a mandate last year in order to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

You can view the city of Joplin’s full release here.