Posted: March 26, 2012 - 6:17pm
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By Tim Carpenter
House legislation creating a new Kansas income tax break to attract students to private or parochial schools failed Monday after protracted debate about the wisdom of stretching state resources beyond K-12 public schools.
Rep. Clay Aurand, a Courtland Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said the legislation would give parents in 18 public school districts a new outlet for securing scholarships for their children to attend alternative schools accredited by the state or two independent school groups.
“Parents should have options for what is best for their children,” Aurand said. “Are we about education or are we about maintaining a government monopoly on schools?”
The House voted 55-66 to block the bill making students in “high-density, at-risk” districts eligible for vouchers if they were designated as low income, special education or academically underachieving. The average annual scholarship would be about $4,000.
Individuals and corporations paying Kansas taxes would be eligible to donate to the Education Liberty Program and qualify for a maximum $100,000 tax credit starting with the 2013 tax year. Potential tax loss to the state was estimated at $5 million annually.
Families with total annual income of about $100,000 — 3.5 times the income standard to qualify for the free-lunch program for students — would qualify for voucher assistance allocated by new nonprofit organizations set up to award scholarships.
Advocates of the reform bill said the state would save money as students moved to private schools, but critics argued public school districts would lose revenue as each student walked away.
“There are no savings to the schools,” said Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka.
Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, failed to convince House members to send the bill back to a committee to explore questions about whether Islamic schools could prosper under the bill.
“What kind of schools might we develop?” Otto said. “Schools that may not agree with your values or my values.”
An amendment added to House Bill 2767 mandated organizations created in Kansas to appropriate scholarships to students had to be coordinated by a nonprofit headquartered in the United States and with personnel who are U.S. citizens.
“Our education system is something we need to protect from foreign influences,” said Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, said she found no reason to eliminate entrepeneurs who live and work in the United States but are citizens of other countries.
The largest beneficiary of the tax credit could be Catholic elementary and secondary schools, Aurand said.