Representative Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) is behind HB 2409, which would allow for tax credit scholarships to cover higher education, such as college, universities, and trade schools, for students who demonstrate financial need. Kansas already has a tax credit scholarship program that allows children from low income families in the lowest performing K-12 public schools to attend private schools.
Started in 2014, Kansas K-12 tax credit scholarships give tax credits to individuals and businesses supporting scholarship granting institutions. These are non-profits that in turn provide private school scholarships. The tax credits are currently only available for K-12 students. Whipple wants to change that.
“The goal of the bill is to encourage the private sector to donate to scholarship programs that help finance the education of low income students at the college level,” said Whipple. “These scholarships could then be used at any Kansas post-secondary institution, including our state universities, community colleges, tech schools and private colleges.”
During the 2017-2018 school year 292 K-12 students benefited from tax credit scholarships. Some of the students attend Urban Preparatory Academy in Wichita. The founder of school, Bishop Wade Moore, says that their program emphasizes higher education and this expansion could provide his students with additional incentive.
“If there is some type of incentive like this it will push them,” says Moore.
Whipple feels that with college tuition continuing to rise much faster than inflation, more students are being shut out of the earning a degree or taking on too much debt.
“Pursuing a college degree should be determined on a student’s intellect and personal motivation more than on the social economic status they happen to be born into. When Kansas students have more scholarship options they have more opportunities to follow their academic and professional calling,” says Whipple.
However, Michael Wescot, Executive Director of Support for Catholic Schools, is concerned that a higher education expansion would lead to competition for tax credit dollars.
“A donor may have to decide ‘do I want this to go to a higher-ed student or a K-12 student’?”
Tax credit scholarships have helped students at 12 different schools within the Catholic Diocese to the tune of about $800,000. Yet, Wescot says in theory the expansion makes sense.
Many people agree that giving the private sector incentives to invest in students through tax credits is a win-win, although the K-12 education lobby and some legislators have tried to terminate the K-12 progarm. Whipple admits there may be some push back.
“The main critique I expect is the cost of the income tax credits to the state’s ending balance,” says Whipple. ”However, my goal is to get the conversation started on ways we can use tax credits to encourage private sector investments in our students.”
Allowing the private sector to choose how their tax dollars are spent is a big incentive for donor.
“There is no tremendous benefit to a donor to do this. There is a little bit of a benefit, because you are paying the taxes anyway. Now you are just designating them to go to a scholarship granting organization,” says Wescot.
Moore is a bit more candid about the programs impact on Urban Preparatory Academy.
“Without it we would not survive, to put it bluntly,” says Moore. “Our doors would not be open without the tax credit scholarships.”