The Kansas Legislature is considering expanding a rather quiet educational program. Since January 2015 The Kansas Tax Credit Scholarship Program has been allowing corporations to donate funds in return for a 70% tax credit with the money being funneled to private schools to educate students from “struggling public school programs.”

This may not be a voucher program, with parents able to take money from public schools, directly to private schools, but those who oppose the program say taxpayers are still footing the bill.

Since the program’s inception, 329 applications for the scholarships have been approved, mostly for use in Kansas City and Wichita. In Wichita, 27 applications have been approved for use at Urban Preparatory Academy, a private church-based school in Northeast Wichita, while 297 applications have been approved for use at Catholic Schools in KCK.

Here’s how the program works. Corporations donate funds to the program, and in return receive 70% of that donation back as a tax credit. Remember, tax credits are a direct dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed. The program then provides $8,000 for a student from a “struggling public school program to attend a private or religious school.

The program is capped at $10 million, but if fully funded, the 70% return means Kansas taxpayers can pay as much as $7 million for students to attend private/religious schools. In the 2016 tax year there were $790,000 in contributions and $553,000 in tax credits earned. Since the beginning of the program there has been $1,566,000 in total contributions received and $1,096,200 in tax credits earned

For the 2016-2017 school year, there were 188 students awarded scholarships totaling $318,318.50. Since the beginning of the program, 297 student scholarships have been awarded totaling $588,972.00

Read: School Rebranding: A Plan to Fix a Broken School

Bill Expansion

The bill to expand the Kansas’ tax credit scholarship program, HB 2410, would expand the program considerably. Among other changes, a student from any public school could receive the award, and while private schools would need to be accredited and have performance requirements, those requirements are not onerous. If approved, these changes would take the program from one aimed at helping struggling students, to one for people who simply prefer parochial education and cannot afford it.

The Kansas Constitution states in Article 6 that “No religious sect or sects shall control any part of the public educational funds.” But since this is a donation, it skirts that legal issue. The state does not pay for the “scholarship,” instead it just gives a tax credit.

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