"SCHOOL CHOICE"     

The “Tax Credit Scholarship Program” in Kansas:

  • Taxpayers give money to the program.

  • They get a credit on their taxes for their “donation.”

  • Students chosen by private schools get a “scholarship” from the program funds.

Have you heard the term “School Choice” used by some state legislators?  “School Choice” is a term made up by organizations that oppose public education, advocate for limited government, and support privatization of public services (including K-12 schools).  The term broadly refers to a variety of programs that purport to increase “educational options” for families. Proponents of “School Choice” claim it will allow parents to choose alternatives to public school for their children. By renaming less-popular voucher programs as “scholarships” and by using positive-sounding phrases like “School Choice” and “educational options,”, anti-tax, “small government” groups have attempted to frame the discussion in a more positive light. 

Here’s what the Kansas program does: Diverts tax money from public schools to private schools.

 

Result? State tax money pays for certain children to attend private, selective schools on “scholarships” - and most are religious schools. Those schools DO NOT have to admit any student they don’t want. They aren’t held to the same accreditation standards, oversight, or financial scrutiny public schools are. In fact, those schools are not obligated to use diverted tax dollars for students AT ALL. Once our tax money is funneled to private schools in Kansas, there is no accounting for where the money goes. No oversight. No information on the “scholarship” students’ performance. Nothing but a black hole.

This summary of how the Kansas program works illustrates why we call it a “money-laundering” scheme:

  • The taxpayer (person or corporation) donates money to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) of their choosing.

  • The SGO immediately takes 10% off the top of the donation, as an administrative fee. This is how the SGO makes money.

  • The SGO then distributes the remainder of the donation to one or more private schools of their choosing in the form of a “scholarship.”

  • Nothing prohibits the donating taxpayer from directly benefiting from the donation. They or their family can run the SGO. They can own or run the private school that benefits. Their family member can even benefit from the scholarship!

  • There is no transparency as to who “donated,” how much - or to what organization - and there is no tracking of where that money specifically went or how it was used. There’s no tracking of “scholarship student” performance, either.

Here’s an overview of the Kansas “scholarship” scheme and how it impacts funding of Blue Valley Schools:

  • Passed in 2014 by the Brownback legislature, Kansas’ tax diversion scheme is called the “Tax Credit Scholarship Program.”

  • Individuals and corporations “donate” money to the program, then get a credit of 70% off what they owe on taxes to the state. NOT a usual deduction, a credit.

  • The money credited would have otherwise gone to the state general fund, which funds Kansas public schools.

  • A decrease in general fund dollars leads legislators to say, “We’d love to fund public schools, but we don’t have enough money.”

  • Those who want to give tax money to private religious schools and those who want to decrease support for public schools (and there’s a large overlap in those 2 groups) achieve their objective. Public school funding is undercut while private, selective schools reap the benefits of our tax dollars.

 

We have many concerns about the private school recipients of this tax money:

  • Many of these schools are religious schools, and the use of the intermediary “Scholarship Granting Organization” effectively works around the Kansas Constitution, which states in Article 6, section 6(c): “No religious sect or sects shall control any part of the public educational funds.” While we fully support the right of parents to send their children to any school of their choosing - including religious schools - we don’t think tax money should pay for religious education. It appears the framers of the state Constitution didn’t think so, either.

  • Unlike public schools, private schools are not required to accept any/every student. We don’t think tax dollars should be used to discriminate.

  • Unlike public schools, participating private schools are not required to be accredited by KDE, hire certified teachers, provide special education services - and the list goes on. We don’t think tax dollars should fund non-equivalent services.

  • Private schools aren’t required to publish test scores (or even participate in state testing). There is no evidence that students benefit from the tax money diversion.

  • Private schools can be here one day, gone the next. Across the country, there have been instances of taxpayer-funded private schools closing overnight in the middle of the school year. 

  • The state does not require private schools to publish how they spend our tax dollars, while public schools undergo extensive audits. We are concerned about potential financial irresponsibility in the absence of oversight.

  • Private schools aren’t required to use state curriculum. While we think they should have that right, we don’t think tax money should fund it.

How does a private school or SGO participate?

  • Private schools complete a one-page form with a name, address and phone number. Really. “Please accept this form as official notification that the below named school, a private school located in Kansas, meets the eligibility criteria of the Tax Credit for Low Income Student Scholarship Program as provided by K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 72-99a01-07 and would like to participate in the program and will comply with the rules and regulations of the program.” 

  • SGOs have a two-page form, and must verify they have a 501(c)(3) tax designation.They’re required to submit an annual audit (done by their own CPA) and a brief report.

It’s a slippery slope:

  • The original Kansas Tax Credit Scholarship Program that was passed in 2014 - although we disagree with the premise entirely - had important restrictions.

  • The original program recipients were to be students who qualify for free lunch (a way to demonstrate severe financial need). Changing that to free and reduced lunch, or removing the financial need altogether, have been proposed.

  • Students were originally to be leaving an “underperforming school” (defined by state test results). That restriction has been targeted for removal by certain factions of our state legislature.

  • The first bill allowed donations from corporations; later, individuals were added.

  • The original bill capped the total amount of money that the program could use annually - raising or removing that cap is frequently discussed. 

  • Unaccredited private religious schools...well then, what about Home Schools? Some proponents want families who home-school to be able to claim some of the “scholarship” funds.

  • Taken to the extreme, many “School Choice” advocates believe that the government should not be in the business of running schools at all. They call our public schools “government schools.” They’d like to see private (religious, for-profit) schools flourish and public schools languish.

Let’s look at financial impacts:

  • How does this legislation affect the state budget? For $100 donated, the state general fund loses $70. Proponents often claim the loss doesn’t come from school funding - technically true, but revenue loss to the state general fund impacts all state services that it funds.

  • Who stands to gain financially from this arrangement? Who builds, owns, and operates these private schools? While most “scholarship-recipient” schools are currently religious, NO restriction exists to prohibit a for-profit company from starting up its own schools - and benefitting from taxpayer “scholarships” for its students. In fact, for  “School Choice” supporters, that’s the end-goal. 

  • The SGO (Scholarship-Granting Organization) takes 10% off the top. This isn’t for school administration - it’s money off the top before the school itself ever sees a penny. SGOs are nothing more than money-making schemes.

  • How favorable is the program to donors? If you make a donation to a usual charity - churches and religious organizations included - you may take a tax deduction - that is, deduct the amount of the donation from the total that you pay taxes on. At the most you might get back well under 50% of the amount donated. In the special case of this program, when a donor gives money to a private (often religious) school they get a credit of 70% of that amount off the tax owed. The rules for this special exception may amount to double or even more money back to the donor, vs. any other donation.

What about the low income student in a failing school who wants to attend a private school? Or the donor who sincerely wishes to help these students? Shouldn’t that matter?

  • Almost all of the participating private schools already have scholarship or financial hardship programs in place. 

  • Donors can give money to nonprofits and churches and deduct it like every other donation. Why should private, selective (often religious) schools benefit from a special money-laundering scheme just for them - at the expense - literally - of our public schools and other public services funded by the state general fund?
     

“The money should follow the child” is a common statement you’ll hear in legislative committee hearings discussing this subject. That’s not how it works. The school “Funding Formula” is a 24-page document that took months for legislators to hammer out. Per-pupil funding is a way to calculate how much of our tax dollars are allocated to each district, but it’s not a check for every student to spend how they want. If your family moves during the school year, the money doesn’t get transferred from one school to the other. Parents don’t go to their public school and dictate how “their student’s” funds are allocated. 

Stand Up Blue Valley views any vote to support, continue, or expand any program that gives tax money to private schools as an anti-public education vote.

To read about the tax credit scholarship program in Kansas, use this link: http://www.ksde.org/Tax-Credit-for-Low-Income-Students-Scholarship-Program