Expanding Access to Choice in Minnesota
Since passage of former Governor Arne H. Carlson's landmark proposal to give statewide tax credits or deductions for educational expenses--now known as the Tax Credit for Learning[SM] program--Minnesotans for School Choice has been working both to protect and to expand the gains for educational choice.
Protecting the gains achieved under Carlson's school choice legislation has been an ongoing battle. In both the 1998 and 1999 legislative sessions, Minnesotans for School Choice led successful efforts to stop bills aimed at regulating non-public schools that accepted students whose families claimed the education tax credit or deduction. Those bills would have placed onerous state regulations on private schools simply for admitting students whose families were exercising their new education options.
In addition to fending off threats to diminish existing parental choice in education, Minnesotans for School Choice this year took steps to further extend school choice by introducing House Bill 2215/Senate Bill 2111. The bill would expand the education tax credits and deductions and make the program more accessible for low-income families by:
- raising the household income limit for families eligible for the education tax credit from $33,500 to $38,000;
- gradually phasing out the amount of tax credit for families with incomes between $38,000 and $45,000;
- indexing the tax credit and deduction to the rate of inflation, so that regular legislative adjustments would become unnecessary;
- increasing the maximum education deduction from $1,625 to $1,950 per child in grades K-6 and from $2,500 to $3,000 per child in grades 7-12;
- allowing the tax credit to be assignable to state- or federally charted banks, savings and loans, or credit unions, to encourage the development of private revolving loan funds to assist low-income families in accessing the tax credits;
- ensuring that custodial parents or grandparents who incur eligible education expenses can claim the tax credit or deduction.
The bill was heard before the House Tax Committee on April 7 and is being considered for inclusion in the House omnibus tax bill. A Senate subcommittee approved four of the six provisions, which will now be considered for inclusion in the Senate omnibus tax bill. The bill has received broad bipartisan support and no opposition as yet from the education establishment.
"Now that the education tax credits and deductions have taken effect, opponents of school choice have been muted because their dire predictions have not come true, and public, private, and home-school parents are excited about the new choices they have to meet their children's educational needs," said Kristin Robbins, president of Minnesotans for School Choice.
"Legislators see that the education tax credits and deductions benefit all children and encourage parental involvement in education," noted Robbins. While conceding that there was still a lot of outreach work to do to ensure that all families know about their new choices, Robbins is "encouraged by the number of families who have eagerly seized the opportunity to help their children succeed in school."
In related news, long-time school choice advocate and public policy expert Morgan Brown has been appointed executive director of Minnesotans for School Choice and Partnership for Choice in Education. President Robbins, who now works part-time to devote more time to her family, will focus on long-range planning, strategy, and fundraising.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.