TOPEKA — Lawmakers and education officials debated for more than two hours Wednesday on a proposal to expand a private school tax credit originally billed as a way to serve low-income Kansas students.
Education officials and Democrats slammed House Bill 2048 during a tense and crowded K-12 House Education Budget Committee hearing. Critics said the legislation would harm Kansas students and serve special interest groups by incentivizing the privatization of Kansas education, ultimately siphoning funds away from Kansas public schools.
The tax credit currently allows organizations and taxpayers to cancel 70% of scholarships provided to private schools, with a maximum credit allowed of $500,000 annually. HB2048 would broaden students’ eligibility for the program and allow for a 100% tax deduction.
“Holy tax scams, this is a masterful shell game,” said Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin, an Overland Park Democrat. “For the sake of the committee, I just want to reiterate that any religious organization or dark-money special interest group can substantially divert their group’s entire Kansas tax liability up to those limits from our state’s general funds to organizations that grant grants.” study programs for distribution to private schools that are not subject to the same supervision as our Kansas public schools.”
Under current law, students must be Kansas residents and qualify for free or reduced lunches under the National School Lunch Act and meet other standards to qualify for private school scholarships. Criteria include enrolling in a public school in grades K-8 during the previous school year, being seven years of age or younger at the time of applying for a scholarship, or having previously received a scholarship.
HB2048 would remove the reduced/free lunch eligibility requirement. Instead, students should have an annual household income that is less than or equal to 250% of the federal poverty level. Other eligibility criteria would include having a parent on active duty, having a parent who is a firefighter, medical provider or law enforcement officer, or having been in foster care or foster care.
Taxpayers who contribute to a scholarship-giving organization could receive a 100 percent refund in tax credits, starting next year, depending on the program’s outreach.
Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican and committee chair, said she couldn’t provide exact figures on how many people would be eligible for scholarships under the expanded program. You said the legislation is geared towards helping more students.
“We want children to have the best education,” Williams said. “None of us should care where they go. We should be funding children, students, not systems. And as soon as we learn how to finance children, then they can start to perform well, graduate and enter the workforce.
Earlier in the meeting, Williams also presented a private school discount coupon, to make it easier for parents to take money directly from a public school budget and use it towards private school fees.
Proponents of the bill included private school officials, private school administrators, and scholarship program organizers. Delia Shropshire, president of Holy Savior Catholic Academy in Wichita, said the program has enabled her school to serve more children.
“With this opportunity we can ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn, grow and develop in an academic environment that meets their academic, cultural, social, emotional and spiritual needs,” said Shropshire.
Opponents of the bill included the Kansas Association of School Boards and public school advocates.
Ann Mah, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, said she was concerned about the lack of data on the program’s success.
“So where’s the beef?” Mah said. “Where are the numbers to prove that it worked, that our Kansas scholarship students actually do better academically in private schools? Where’s the oversight?
Mah said she is concerned that private schools in Kansas can select and reject students as they please, are not required to provide special services for high-risk students, are not supervised, and have different standards than public schools in the state. state.
Mah said there is a double standard because lawmakers wouldn’t give public schools a massive boost in funding without meaningful data.
“I guess helping struggling students was never the goal in the first place. For now, with no evidence of any success, we’re transitioning to paying successful middle-class students to go to private schools,” Mah said. “And to make matters worse, you’re allowing students to transition from nationally recognized public schools to underperforming private schools. And we can’t forget the money factor. Who ever heard of a program that allows a $500,000 tax break? I guess the billionaires who are advancing the privatization and defunding of public schools really like this bill”.