Like a record scratch that continually repeats the most irritating part of a song, members of a K-12 education committee tried for what seems like the 1,000th time to kill a tax credit scholarship program.
The Kansas Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship program allows individuals and businesses to donate to a state scholarship fund. In exchange, donors receive a partial tax credit. All of the scholarship recipients are poor and many are minority students.
As the committee debated a proposal to increase public school funding by $500 million over the next 5 years, Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat, salivated at the chance to deny poor students the chance to attend private schools using the scholarship program. He offered an amendment to eliminate the scholarship program. Trimmer’s proposal sought to rip poor children from private schools where they’re finding success so public schools could add a few thousand dollars to their bottom lines.
When it was implemented in 2015, the tax incentive scholarship program was only available to businesses. Lawmakers expanded the program last year, allowing individuals to offset their tax bills by donating to the program. The program is capped at $10 million, but this year, the program is set to give out a little more than $2 million in student scholarships.
Trimmer showed his ignorance of the program he sought to scrap as he explained his rationale for the proposal.
Under the guise of saving the state money, Trimmer told the committee that the scholarships are used for homeschool students. That’s not true. He also said the schools that utilize the program aren’t accredited–another fallacy.
Maybe Trimmer missed the school choice rally in the Capitol in late January. During the rally, Wade Moore, a pastor and founder of Urban Prep Academy in Wichita, told attendees that the current school monopoly system binds poor students, and specifically African American students, to the shackles of inequality. At the same event, James Franko, Vice President of the Kansas Policy Institute, said the discussion about education has been about court battles and spending, instead of what’s best for children.
Trimmer ignored that message. During Wednesday’s committee meeting, he admitted his true motivation for trapping poor kids in schools where they aren’t succeeding. He noted that the scholarship program “saves the state money, but it’s at the expense of public schools,” he said.
Perhaps no one has told the Winfield Democrat that the purpose of the Kansas educational system isn’t maintaining the existing system. It’s educating children, and parochial schools often do so for far less than their public school counterparts. In 2016, the scholarship recipients used about $3,000 of donated money apiece to attend private schools. That’s compared to the more than $13,000 per pupil public schools receive from local, state and federal sources.
And yet the scholarship program remains under continued attack from legislators like Trimmer. In 2017, House Democrats pursued amendments to eliminate the program. They offered proposals to phase out the program and another proposal to limit private school participation in the program.
They offered those proposals at the expense of the poor students who use the program, even knowing that the program creates a lifeline for some families. During Trimmer’s latest attempt to gut the program, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, defended the program.
She wondered why anyone would want to deny the children who attend Urban Prep Academy an opportunity.
“Did you not see their faces?” She asked the committee about the rally Urban Prep students attended.
If they did, six of the committee members obviously don’t care. Trimmer’s proposed amendment failed, 6-10, but look for lawmakers to attempt eliminating the scholarship program when school funding bills reach the House and Senate in the next week. For several lawmakers, their broken records just stick on that annoying tune.
While middle class and wealthy parents have the ability to move to a different school district or pay for a private school when their public schools fail their children, poor kids often don’t have the same chance. A lot of lawmakers like Trimmer prefer it that way.