Bill expanding tax credits for scholarships to private schools will be considered Friday

A bill to expand state tax credits to pay for students to attend private schools will receive a public hearing this week.

House Bill 2374 will be considered at 1:30 p.m. Friday before the House K-12 Education Budget Committee.

The measure would expand participation in a current program that allows the granting of tax credits to those who contribute to a scholarship fund that is then used to pay the tuition of students to go to private schools, or even home schools.

According the annual report on the program by the Kansas State Department of Education, there are currently 329 eligible students participating in the program, drawn from five school districts: 255 students from Kansas City USD 500, 62 from Topeka USD 501, 30 students from Wichita USD 259, 7 students from Leavenworth USD 453, and 5 students from Ottawa USD 290. Ninety-two percent of scholarships are made by the Catholic Education Foundation, and most qualified schools are Catholic schools that participate in state accreditation.

KASB will oppose this bill, as it has similar bills in the past, because the state budget faces significant revenue shortfalls, public education is underfunded, private schools may be selective in who they enroll, there is no testing, accreditation or budget information required of the schools receiving students and students in states with similar programs perform no better than Kansas students and usually worse.

In addition, the Kansas Supreme Court last week declared the current school finance system inadequate and ordered the Legislature to approve changes by June 30. The court’s decision didn’t mention using tax credits to fix the law.

Below is a rundown by the Kansas Office of Revisor of Statutes of the changes proposed by HB 2374.

  • “Eligible student” changes from being a free lunch eligible student attending a Title I school designated as a priority or focus school due to low performance, to whether the student is attending any public schools and is eligible for free or reduced lunch.
  • The annual scholarship amount is changed from $8,000 to 90 percent of the at-risk state aid amount, which is determined as the at-risk, high-density at-risk, and general state aid per pupil amount for the student’s resident school district.
  • At least 82 percent of all scholarships must be provided to students who attended a public school the prior year and who are eligible for free lunch. The other 18 percent may be awarded to any student meeting the definition of eligible student.
  • No more than 1 percent of the students in any school district may receive scholarships in any one school year. This would expand the program to a maximum of just under 5,000 students.
    Each scholarship- granting organization must notify school districts of the number of students residing in that district that will receive scholarships next school year by May 1.
  • Individual taxpayers may receive an income tax credit of 90 percent of their contribution amount. This is in addition to corporate taxpayers’ current tax credit. Individual contributions made after April 15 cannot be credited until the following tax year.
  • The total amount of tax credits for any one tax year cannot exceed $10 million, including both corporate and individual credits. In the 2016 tax year there were $790,000 in contributions and $553,000 in tax credits earned. Since the beginning of the program there has been $1,566,000 in total contributions received and $1,096,200 in tax credits earned.
  • These changes would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

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