AUSTIN, Texas — The 84th Session of the Texas Legislature is scheduled to begin on January 13, 2015, and one of the expected hot topics is school choice. As part of our ongoing #84LegePreview series, Breitbart Texas took a look at a program popular among school choice advocates: tax credit scholarships.
A tax credit scholarship is a program where an individual or corporation receives a tax credit for donating money to a non-profit organization that gives scholarships for students to attend a private school. Arizona was the first state to enact a tax credit scholarship program in 1997, and Florida followed in 2001, with a program that awards a scholarship of up to $5,272 for tuition at a qualified private school or up to $500 in transportation costs per year to attend a Florida public school that is located outside of the student’s assigned district.
As of the current 2014-2015 school year, fourteen states offer tax credit scholarship programs. Most states’ programs apply some form of means testing of the students’ families to determine eligibility for the scholarships, such as the federal standards for free or reduced lunches, a maximum household income level, or a certain percentage above the poverty limit. Several states also offer scholarship programs limited to children with disabilities or children in the foster care system.
Because Texas has no state income tax, discussions about adopting a tax credit scholarship program here generally contemplate corporate donations only, and then the tax credits would be against the business’ margins or franchise tax.
During the 2013 legislative session, Texas State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston), now the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor, filed Senate Bill 23, which would have created a business tax credit scholarship program. The bill was co-sponsored by State Senator Ken Paxton (R-McKinney), who is the Republican nominee for Attorney General. State Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and State Representative Scott Turner (R-Frisco) also filed bills that would have created tax credit scholarships. None of the bills were able to pass the House, where Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has not shared his colleagues’ enthusiasm for school choice programs.
Alejandro Garcia, Communications Director for Dan Patrick’s campaign, did not want to speculate on what specific bills Patrick might want to support during the 2015 session, but did tell Breitbart Texas that Patrick has long been known as a champion of school choice and that it would still be a priority for him. “Senator Patrick believes Texas should be a leader for school choice,” said Garcia. “By expanding the options families have to educate their children, you increase the likelihood of success for generations to come. School choice gives students the flexibility they need to prepare them for higher education or the workforce.”
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart Texas, Texas Private Schools Association Executive Director Laura Colangelo shared her thoughts about tax credit scholarships and what her organization was hoping to see next session. “This is a way to have school choice without any money being taken from public schools…the money never goes into the general revenue fund, and so that way, schools can remain private schools without strings attached, like public schools.”
Colangelo expects that any bill would include socioeconomic criteria to qualify for the scholarships, and remarked that Senator Campbell and Representative Turner had sponsored school choice bills during the 2013 session and were expected to continue to be supportive, although no one had any specific bills yet this early in the process.
“It opens up access to quality schools that families choose for their children, and allows families to find the best fit to educate their child,” said Colangelo about the benefits of tax credit scholarships. “Families know best for their kids, know what they need.”
Colangelo encouraged parents to reach out to their elected representatives on the issue. “Talk to your legislators,” she said, “and ask them what they are doing about school choice in Texas, so that the conversation is open, and [legislators] understand that families want this.” Colangelo also mentioned a Texas Tribune poll showing “an incredibly high number” of Texans supported school choice (a February 2013 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed that Texans support school choice 63 percent to 36 percent).
#84thLegePreview: This article is part of a series previewing the upcoming 84th Session of the Texas Legislature in 2015. Breitbart Texas will interview candidates, elected officials, policy analysts, grassroots activists, and other experts and interested parties about the potential legislation and topics of debate to expect during next year’s session. If you have an idea you would like to suggest for the #84thLegePreview series, please email Sarah Rumpf at email@example.com or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #84thLegePreview.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.