Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Why would Kansas Legislators support giving our tax money to private, often religious, schools in the form of publicly-funded private school scholarships?
Anti-public education forces, who ultimately want to privatize and profitize education, have been pushing a scheme all over the country where private, almost all religious, schools benefit from “scholarships” that are funded by our tax dollars. Stand Up Blue Valley is opposed to tax dollars being used to fund private schools. In 2014, the ultraconservative legislature, working with Gov. Sam Brownback, passed the first “Tax Credit Scholarship” bill. With the addition of several ultraconservatives to the Kansas House in 2018, efforts are now underway to significantly expand the number of eligible “scholarship” students.
How does it work?
The taxpayer who “donates” to a certain type of scholarship fund is given a tax credit of 70% of the contribution made. (That’s why “donates” is placed in quotations, because the donor gets 7 dollars BACK from the state for every 10 dollars they “donate,” making that generosity a little less impressive.) Each Tax Credit given back to the donor comes directly out of money that *should go to* the State General Fund. Not only does the State General Fund provide for K-12 public education and higher education, it also funds KPERS, Public Safety, Water Safety, Roads and Bridges (building and repair), and overall state operations benefitting ALL Kansans. So basically, tax credits given back to donors takes revenue away from tax dollars that would have otherwise gone to essential state programs. (This is NOT how other charitable contributions work.)
All donated money goes through a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) that takes 10% off the top. That 10% is their profit and how the SGO is funded as a business. (So guess what businesses want to see the program continue and expand?) The SGO then works with approved private schools to grant “scholarships” to students.
Is there a limit to how much contribution/refund a donor can get?
No. “If the amount of credit exceeds the contributor’s tax liability in any one taxable year, the remaining portion of the credit may be carried forward until the total amount of the credit is used.” The donor can zero-out their state taxes and use the leftover to apply to next year’s taxes.
In these two significant ways, (70% tax credit, and the credit may carry over to the next year) donors benefit more, and this scheme results in more loss of revenue to the Kansas General Fund, than other types of charitable contributions.
We have heard multiple legislators cite their concern that state revenue may not meet budgeted spending in a few years. If the statutory cap of ten million dollars is reached on contributions to Tax Credit Scholarships, that would result in a decrease of SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS in revenue to the state. Why would the legislature single out private religious schools to benefit from 7 million dollars that the state does not have to lose?
Do private schools provide a better education?
Comparing outcomes of private schools vs. public schools is an apples to oranges comparison, in large part because private schools are not required to accept any students they do not want. Stand Up Blue Valley has heard numerous accounts of students with learning disabilities being rejected by area private schools. We are also aware of students with behavioral issues being rejected. The list of categories of students who may be rejected from private schools also includes, but is in no way limited to the following:
Students with dyslexia
Students with autism
Students with medical needs
Students with disabilities
Students with mental heath issues including depression and suicide attempts
Students whose parents are LGBTQ -
in fact there was a recent case in Johnson County of this occurrence
Students whose families are a different religion than the school
In fact, this list is limitless since there are no regulations included in the Tax Credit Scholarship Program ensuring that tax dollars are used to fund inclusive private schools.
When you hear about a performance measure that seems to indicate better outcomes by private schools, remember that private schools are not educating the students with learning and behavior differences, students who may have absences due to medical or mental health concerns, the ones whose parents may not be willing or able to seek out private school scholarships for them (and therefore may be less engaged). Comparisons often cited by anti-public education sources are simply invalid.
Are private schools funded by our tax money subject to the same accountability measures as public schools are?
As required by the state, Kansas public schools publish a payroll list. Taxpayers can see what our administrators, teachers, and office staff are paid. Not so with private schools. In fact, there is no accounting for how our tax dollars are spent or if our tax dollars are going to benefit students at all. Once the “donation” is made, there is no mandated accounting for how it is used.
Should our tax dollars fund teaching of a particular religion?
Another concern we raised in our testimony is that many of the private schools that benefit from the Tax Credit Scholarship Program are religious schools. While we fully support the right of parents to send their children to any private religious school of their choosing, using public dollars to support that is against the Kansas Constitution. We strongly object to tax dollars being used to fund the teaching of, or support of, a particular religion. How much time every day, every week is spent by these schools teaching religious doctrine on the taxpayer dime?
You might wonder how many of the participating private schools are in fact religious schools. Here is a list of the nine participating private schools in Leawood and Overland Park.
Overland Christian School
Cure of Ars Catholic School
Ascension Catholic School
Holy Cross Catholic School
Holy Spirit Catholic School
Nativity Parish School
John Paul II Catholic School
Saint Thomas Aquinas High School
St Michael the Archangel Catholic School
Nine of nine are religious schools.
What’s this about expanding the publicly-funded private school scholarship program?
When the Tax Credit Scholarship Program was initially passed in 2014, proponents claimed that its scope would be limited to at-risk students in underperforming elementary schools. “At-risk” was defined in the same way the state decides what number of students in public schools are “at-risk:” students eligible for free lunch. Underperforming elementary schools were defined as the 100 lowest-performing schools in the state. The initial program applied only to donations made by businesses - not individual taxpayers.
A trick often used by ultraconservatives trying to pass legislation is that they’ll start with a narrow scope and say, “Don’t worry. This only applies to a few students and a few schools.” Well, as opponents predicted, the very next year the program was expanded to allow not only companies but individuals to participate in the “donate and you’ll get your money back” scheme. And now, with the Kansas House stacked with even more ultraconservatives than before, they see an opportunity to expand the scheme significantly by increasing the number of students eligible.
The very justification for the program was to help “at risk” students who attend “low performing” schools. Now proponents want to expand the beneficiaries to free AND reduced lunch-eligible students. The Kansas Department of Education does not use “reduced lunch” student numbers to pay public schools more to aid “at-risk.” Why should private schools benefit from this designation while pubic schools do not? The original bill required that students had to be coming out of one of the lowest-performing 100 public elementary schools to benefit. Now ultraconservatives want to remove that requirement, opening the floodgate to expand the “scholarship” scheme dramatically.
Who testified in favor of expanding the program to publicly fund scholarships to private religious schools?
Administrators of private schools themselves, and the overseeing religious organizations. A Scholarship Granting Organization (remember, they get 10% off the top of “donated” tax money). Edchoice, a 501c3 organization that supports “school choice” which is code for diversion of public money to private schools. (501c3 organizations are not required to disclose their donors. Who funds EdChoice?)
From comments made during the committee meeting, it’s obvious that several legislators favor expanding this scheme, including the committee Chair, Rep. Kristey Williams from Augusta, KS. On the other hand, it was clear through their comments and questions that Blue Valley area Rep. David Benson and Rep. Cindy Holscher were not fans of using tax money to fund private schools.
What is the point of a program that gives tax money to private schools in this manner?
We found this very apt description in a January 2020 Op-Ed in the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader:
“Scholarship tax credits are one of the many ideas started by free market conservatives to dismantle public schools and hand their services over to the private sector.”
Let’s be honest. That is the end game for anti-public education forces. Stand Up Blue Valley is prepared to call it out and join others who stand up against it.