An unfortunate headline in the Kansas City Star missed the “DO NOT”. To be fair, reporters typically don’t headline their stories, but the misconception that SB 706 (Cunningham) provides public tuition assistance to families sending their kids to Catholic schools is one that made its way into numerous stories and blog posts on the bill yesterday.
SB 706 provides a wide array of fixes to the problems of three unaccredited Missouri public school districts, one being the Kansas City district. Numerous Catholic school leaders and students testified in the State Senate yesterday in favor of a provision of the bill called the Passport Scholarship Program. The program would provide a nonrefundable tax credit to individuals or corporations making donations to a qualified scholarship-making organization. Scholarships made through those donations must be provided to a student residing in an unaccredited school district and spent for tuition at a qualified, accredited non-public school. So to be clear:
- The scholarships are provided by private individuals and corporations.
- No public money is expended for the scholarships.
- Catholic and other private schools and the students who attend them would not be receiving any tuition aid from the state.
- Even the tax credit for donors to these scholarships is nonrefundable, meaning not a single dollar leaves state coffers; if the credit exceeds your tax liability, you are not getting a check.
- The tax credit is not for payment of your own child’s tuition. Only those making donations to a qualified scholarship-making organization get the credit.
- Finally, the financial benefit to the state outweighs the revenue lost in tax credits. For instance, if a taxpayer makes a donation in the full amount of the cost to educate a child in a Kansas City Catholic elementary school ($5,500) that taxpayer would receive a 60 percent tax credit ($3,300). If that child had gone to a KCMSD school, instead of a Catholic school, it would have cost the government $14,556 (the cost per student in KCMSD schools). Under the Passport Scholarship Program, a student on a full, privately funded scholarship to a Kansas City Catholic school saves the public $11,266.