Tuesday, March 06, 2007

HB 808 establishes the Betty L. Thompson Scholarship Program

I've been doing some more studying on HB 808. Here it is in a nut shell:

HB 808 would allow tax credits for taxpayers to donate money for education scholarships to benefit "students from low-income families in urban areas...."

The donations would be collected and tax receipts provided to the taxpayer by "education assistance organizations."

Much of the bill explains qualifications which must be met by the beneficiaries of the scholarships and guidelines and requirements to be met by the "education assistance organizations." What the bill does is add sections 135.712 - 135.719 to chapter 135, RSMo. Those sections establish the Betty L. Thompson Scholarship Program.

The scholarships could be used in both public and private schools.

Get this:

"2. The amount of the tax credit claimed shall not exceed the amount of the taxpayer's state tax liability for the tax year for which the credit is claimed. The department shall certify the tax credit amount to the taxpayer and to the department of revenue. Any amount of credit that a taxpayer whose filing status is single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er), or whose filing status is married filing combined, is prohibited by the program from claiming in a tax year may be carried forward to any of such taxpayer's three subsequent taxable years. All tax credits authorized under the program may be transferred, sold, or assigned."

At least 80% of the revenues must be used for grants to eligible students and at least 15% of the recipients would be required to be children with special education needs.

There are no vouchers. The scholarships paid by the "education assistance organizations" would be written to the parent but sent to the school to receive the parent's endorsement before deposit by the school. I would think that this would alleviate the possibility of people scamming the system. Of course, in the case of home schooling the guidelines would be different, but there are strict guidelines and testing regardless of the facility the student attends.

If passed, this bill would "sunset" in six years unless "reauthorized by the general assembly," and in the case of reauthorization would "sunset" again 12 years after the reauthorization.

Personally, I'm conflicted about this issue but there are people passionate on both sides of it. I think the thing that bothers me the most about Tony Messenger's piece, "Walks AND talks like a duck," is in his tying it to the Arizona law which had "limited vouchers." Missouri's HB 808 offers no vouchers. In Arizona the teachers' unions and the ACLU are challenging the voucher part of the law based on Arizona's state constitution. Missouri's HB 808 may be based, in part on Arizona's law but they are simply not the same. Nonetheless, Messenger is right, it will be a tax credit which would come out of general tax revenue, I couldn't help but feel that he leaves one with the impression that the credits will come directly out of tax revenues earmarked for public education but that isn't the case at all, general tax revenue is just that, general tax revenue. There is no indication in HB 808 that any tax revenue will be depleted from revenue earmarked for public education.

If public schools in urban areas of our state are failing to adequately educate poor children or children with special education needs why should they be made to pay the price so that those public schools can keep the money the state would provide for their education? Shouldn't this be about what is best for the children of our state rather than money?

I realize that Tony Messenger is the Editorial Page Editor of the New-Leader and therefore gets to throw his personal opinion around but he should be mindful of the fact he is the editorial page editor of the city's established newspaper. I'd like to think I could expect more in the way of factual analysis from a paper which one would think would value its reputation. I felt his comments were misrepresentative of the bill. The bill is about tax credits for those taxpayers who choose to make charitable contributions to "education assistance organizations," which, in turn, would provide scholarships for students who are failing to receive adequate educations in their current situations, the guidelines and qualifications those organizations must meet and identifying which students would qualify, not vouchers. Unfortunately, many readers, I fear, won't research the bill for themselves like I did and will take Messenger's word for it that it's a "voucher bill." Shame.

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