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School choice debate heats up over K-12 tax credit proposal

When it comes to funding education, just bring up the term school vouchers and the sea parts with those saying it’s a sure way to destroy the public school system and others who contend it’s all about choice and accountability.

Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) offered a new approach to the House Taxes Committee Thursday: allow tax credits for people and businesses who contribute to foundations that, in turn, award student scholarships and make grants to schools of their choice. He also calls for extending the existing K-12 education tax credit to include the cost of tuition.

HF386 was held over by the committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF286, is sponsored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes). It awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance Committee.

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) contends the bill would address the education racial disparity.

“We can’t just sit back and do nothing to close the achievement gap. The Legislature, for many years, has done everything they can on both sides of the aisle to do so,” McDonald said.

He pointed to some charter schools that have raised reading and math test scores to levels far higher than nearby public schools, at a far less cost. “What they are doing is magical formula — the parents are engaged, the teachers are engaged — maybe they have stricter rules.” He questioned why bill opponents are afraid of these “successful endeavors.”

Representing the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Valerie Dosland was quick to fire back. “I want to assure you that superintendents are not ignoring the achievement gap … and they are making gains … despite the lack of funding, despite all the different requirements the Legislature and the Department of Education places on them.”

The bill would allow tax credits for individuals or corporations equal to 70 percent of the amount contributed to qualified foundations.

This would come at a substantial cost, said Paul Cumings, tax policy manager for the Department of Revenue. The cost to the General Fund is estimated at $10 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and bounce up to $40.7 million in Fiscal Year 2020 and thereafter.

“One of the primary concerns with this credit is that it has very little accountability to measure whether or not it is effective at actually creating positive outcomes,” he said, while noting the governor’s opposition. “This bill shouldn’t be used as a tool to not provide the needed investments and improvement to our public schools across the Minnesota.”

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