Kansas lawmakers sent the governor a bill that would provide up to $8,000 for private-school tuition from scholarship funds established with donations from businesses. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed the bill in late April, making it the state’s first private school choice program.
Students with disabilities or from families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level could qualify to receive the scholarships. That’s an annual income of $44,000 for a family of four.
“This is a corporate credit scholarship bill that will help low-income and special-needs students,” said James Franko, vice president and policy director of the Kansas Policy Institute. “It’s an opportunity for kids who need it the most who aren’t getting what they need from public schools.”
Senate Bill 22 grants businesses a 70 percent tax credit on the amount they donate to nonprofits that award K-12 scholarships, up to an annual statewide cap of $10 million. That would allow for 2,000 scholarships averaging $5,000. Kansans currently pay an average of $9,700 per student in public schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and the state Supreme Court recently ordered the legislature to spend more.
SB 22 is a “great idea” and “a great start,” said Michael Chartier, a state programs and government relations director at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “I’d like to see the Kansas legislature broaden it a bit to open up eligibility for who receives the scholarships. Hopefully, this will gain some traction so more children can qualify.”
‘A Great Start’
Tax-credit scholarships are the most prevalent school choice option. There are currently 17 tax-credit scholarship programs operating in 13 states. Because the scholarships are funded entirely by private money that never enters state coffers, they are the least burdened by government mandates. State supreme courts typically agree these programs use private, rather tax, money.
“Americans need to decide what’s more important: funding a child’s education and spurring educational innovation or funding a governmental system because that’s the way we’ve been doing it for decades,” said Kyle Olson, CEO of the Michigan-based Education Action Group. “If parents—who know their children best—decide an alternative is best for their children, why not let the dollars follow the child, even in an indirect way as is being proposed in Kansas?”
Franko concurs. “I’d like to see this program expanded to cover more children,” he said. “Ultimately, what we’d like to see is education dollars following all Kansas children to the schools their parents select for them.”
“Senate Bill 22—House Substitute,” Kansas State Legislature Committee on Education: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/measures/sb22/.
“Lawmakers eye tax credits for private school tuition: Bill would allow scholarships of up to $8,000,” Celia Llopis-Jepsen, The Topeka Capital-Journal, Feb. 21, 2014: http://cjonline.com/news/2014-02-21/lawmakers-eye-tax-credits-private-school-tuition