The tax-credit scholarship is facing multiple attacks in the legislature this year. The first one is HB 632 and is being fast-tracked to the House Ways and Means Committee, entirely skipping the Education Committee as is the usual protocol to first go to the policy committee. Although the public hearing is not scheduled yet, we expect it will be soon. This bill would completely repeal the program.
The scholarship program began in 2013 and to date has helped 877 children. It allows private donations – not state funds – to be given to a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to low-income children. Scholarships may be used for tuition at out-of-district public schools, private school tuition, or home education expenses. Donors receive a credit against their business enterprise or profits tax; individuals receive a credit against their income taxes. This is similar to donations to other non-profits such as the American Red Cross, the United Way, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation as well as these companies that give back.
As defined in statute, the program can only help low-income students, those at or below 300% of the federal poverty limit. The 2018 guideline for a family of four is a maximum annual income of $75,300. These families also qualify for a range of federal assistance programs including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Poverty is a major contributor to a range of long-term academic problems. According to The Condition of Education (2018) by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), living in poverty has a great impact for the duration of a child’s academic years, from kindergarten through high school. The report says, “…and living in poverty are associated with poor educational outcomes, including low achievement scores, having to repeat a grade, and dropping out of high school.”
These private scholarships put educational opportunities within reach for families that they otherwise could not access. Educational opportunities close the academic gap for at-risk students.
Brandon is a scholarship recipient and is raised by his grandmother, Maureen. In an interview last year, she said that “having a good education gives him a fighting chance” to “break the cycle of poverty.”