One good piece of news from the 2017 legislative session, amidst much bad news, is that, in the current tax year, individual taxpayers can now participate in the tax credit scholarship program to help low income kids escape some of the worst performing schools in the state. There is a $500,000 annual cap on contributions from a single taxpayer to the program and a statewide cap of $10 million.
The tax credit scholarship program is the only real school choice option in the state of Kansas. It was started in 2014 and allows certain at-risk students a chance to escape their low-performing school and better themselves through a private school education. Eligible students are those low-income students who qualify for free school lunch and attend one of the identified lowest 99 performing public schools in the state. (For a list of those schools, see here and here.) Those 99 schools were identified by KSDE as part of the No Child Left Behind law, the federal law of ill-repute that has now been redone. With NCLB no longer on the books the legislature also changed the 99 schools on that list to be those “identified by the state board as one of the lowest 100 performing schools with respect to student achievement…”
Prior to July 1, 2017 only C-Corporations could contribute to a state-certified scholarship granting organization (SGO) such as the Catholic Education Foundation; Topeka Lutheran School Foundation, Inc.; or the Christian Faith Centre, Inc. A complete list can be found here at the Kansas State Department of Education website. The SGO then takes that donation and provides a scholarship to an eligible student who attends a participating qualifying private school (a list of those schools can be found here). The scholarship can be up to $8,000 per year and can be used for tuition, fees, and other expenses such as transportation.
The legislature also required that by 2020 the private schools receiving kids via a tax credit scholarship be accredited. The language in the statute points to this list maintained by KSDE as reputable organizations used for teacher training and certification (here). State accreditation remains an option but so do groups like the Montessori School Accreditation Commission or the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, the body that accredits Wichita’s Collegiate School.
Taxpayers will now have the option of making sure that some of their state tax liability goes to help some of Kansas’ neediest children achieve their educational dreams. Also important to keep in mind, last year this program offered $553,000 in tax credits to help 188 children compared to an excess of $6 billion in education spending for nearly 500,000 pupils statewide.
As I wrote while the bill was being debated during the legislative session, “But most obviously missing in this [newspaper story] is the importance of the program to the students who are benefiting from the tax credit scholarship program. That’s what the program is about, and what should be the centerpiece of any educational reform discussion. The program is about providing opportunities and making an impact on those low-income, at-risk students – kids who are typically 2-3 grade levels behind their higher income peers. After all, education is supposed to be about the students, not the institutions.”