Why we oppose the ALEC corporate tax credit scholarship provision

We oppose inclusion of the ALEC corporate tax credit scholarship provision.  There was a hearing on this provision in the House Education Committee, where it received insufficient support to move out of the committee.  Here’s a portion of our testimony from that hearing (footnotes didn’t copy over but we referred to substantial research):

Our concerns regarding this bill are extensive and stem from the explicit preference among some elected officials to turn over a significant portion of the K-12 public school system to private entities. To begin, we are disturbed to see that this is an ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) bill. Sections of this bill are identical or nearly identical to the ALEC boilerplate bill. ALEC is not an education advocacy group, but is a group that promotes limited government and free markets. In alignment with these ALEC goals, this bill provides for the diversion of taxpayer funds to private schools.

While we are told that corporate tax credit scholarships are a combination of donor philanthropy and helping poor children escape our failing schools, the facts indicate otherwise. First, donating money that is given back is not philanthropy; it’s merely tax avoidance. This isn’t even a tax deduction, it’s a 70% tax credit, so 70% of the dollars that go into this program are removed from the State General Fund. At a time when we are being told that Kansas can’t afford to restore recession-era cuts to school operating budgets, our legislature should not be diverting additional funds.

We also disagree with the assertion that our public schools are failing. Our schools have been achieving the goals set out for them and continue to do more in an effort to help all Kansas children achieve. At the same time, school districts face increasing challenges in terms of numbers of students living in poverty and with special needs. Our public school students need continued investment in the schools that serve them all. We believe that this bill represents a step towards abandoning and deprioritizing those schools.

If this bill is to be justified based upon the alleged superiority of private schools, there must be substantial data showing that to be true. Unfortunately, the voucher experiment has been underway for decades in other cities and states, and research shows that these programs have not led to improved performance. In addition to failing to improve performance, funding private schools with vouchers introduces several other problems. Private schools utilizing vouchers in other states have shown a lack of accountability and have higher attrition rates. They are not required to provide special education services or free lunches. This bill includes students with IEPs within the definition of “eligible student” but it does not require the private schools accepting “scholarships” to provide the services set forth in those IEPs. In other states, we have also seen fiscal mismanagement, fraud and a lack of adequate academic services in voucher schools. When taxpayer support is involved, there must be a way to ensure that schools receiving funds actually provide adequate education services, but this bill does not have any provisions for accountability. In fact, the definition of a “qualified school” is any “nonpublic school” participating in the program.

Another problem with the argument that this bill is to provide children with an opportunity to escape public schools is it applies to students under six who have not yet attended school without requiring that they have siblings already utilizing the program. Nor does this argument acknowledge that our K-12 public schools are underfunded by $400 million according to state statute, and that increasing funding for our public schools would greatly help in meeting any unmet needs of our students.

Although the scholarship mechanism avoids the direct funding of religious institutions, the fact remains that many of the private schools that would receive “scholarship” funding are religious institutions. We believe that religious schools are free to operate in Kansas, but they should not receive taxpayer funding. We also oppose state support for segregation of Kansas students based on religious beliefs.

We would also like to explicitly state that this is a voucher bill, with the Scholarship Granting Organizations placed in the middle (and collecting up to 10% of the proceeds collected) in order to avoid having direct funding of religious schools (which has been ruled unconstitutional in other states) and in order to try to fly below the radar of public perception as polls have repeatedly demonstrated that people oppose vouchers. We oppose this lack of transparency and end run around the Kansas Constitution.

Game On for Kansas Schools values meaningful parental choices with equal opportunity for all Kansas youth to obtain a quality education. The proven way to accomplish this goal is to restore cuts to K-12 education and to fund our public, not-for-profit schools.

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