School choice continues to dominate the national education debate and the Texas 2017 legislative session where two more state lawmakers filed bills, this time to pilot tax credit scholarship programs.
“Texas is behind in education reform,” said Representative Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), who filed House Bill 1184 last week. It would create a $100 million education tax credit scholarship pilot program. Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) filed the companion Senate Bill 542.
These identical pieces of legislation allow corporations to contribute to nonprofits that award students with scholarships intended to defray educational costs for students in accredited private school or provide supplemental academic assistance to those in public school. In return, these companies get an insurance premium tax credit to offset a portion of their “state premium tax liability.”
Bohac spoke to Breitbart Texas about these scholarships, which are designed for the state’s children with the greatest academic and financial need. They assist students in lower income families, students with special needs, foster children, and children of active duty military. A nonprofit scholarship organization distributes funds to students who wish to enroll in private school or seek additional academic support services while remaining in public school.
He clarified the scholarships are for eligible children in public school who want to transfer to private school or those who want to stay in public school but need financial assistance to obtain educational supports like tutoring or transportation. Bohac described himself as “a fan of all types of education options” from public, charter, private, virtual, to homeschool. He also told Breitbart Texas he favors an “all-of-the-above strategy” that “gives parents the choice to choose what best fits the needs of their child.”
Although critics tend to lump school choice programs into one basket, education tax credit scholarships are not “voucher” programs as they use no state funds, say proponents. Instead, taxpayers, and in some states that means private and business entities, receive partial or full tax credit benefits when they donate money to the nonprofits offering the scholarships.
H.B. 1184 and S.B. 542 list private school tax credit scholarships as 75 percent of the statewide maintenance and operations (M&O) funding or the maximum tuition, whichever is lower. In the 2014-15 school year, total M&O was $9,740; scholarships would then be valued at $7,300. Eligible public school students can be awarded $750 for academic support programs.
“The tax credit scholarship amounts are for significantly less than what the state currently spends on education per student, so there is an overall savings to the state,” Bettencourt commented Tuesday.
“In addition to the state savings, local school districts will have fewer children to educate as an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 students could participate in the program. This cost-savings program would be a win-win for students, teachers and Texas taxpayers alike,” he added.
The bills require scholarships are used at schools that meet or exceed Texas Education Agency (TEA) recognized accreditation and curriculum. Private (“non-public”) schools must be accredited by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission. Tax credit scholarships do not apply to homeschool considered non-accredited private school in Texas.
Presently, 17 states offer educational tax credit scholarship programs, according to EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The Arizona Original Individual Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program was the first to launch in 1997. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, created in 2001, awarded scholarships to more than 97,000 economically disadvantaged students during the 2016-17 school year, noted Step Up for Students, a Florida state-approved Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO).
In 2015, Bohac authored H.B. 1043, a companion bill to S.B. 4, the education tax credit scholarship bill written by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor for the 84th Legislature. Bettencourt and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) were listed as co-authors on the senate-side bill. While S.B. 4 sailed through the Senate, it never got a hearing once referred to the House Ways & Means Committee. Modeled on the Florida program, S.B. 4 would have allowed low income and special needs children in failing Texas public schools to attend private institutions with tuition assistance from private donors.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.