SENATE TENTATIVELY PASSES TUITION SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
|Senator Larry Taylor of Friendswood sponsored the bill to allow businesses to write off donations for private school scholarships for low-income students.|
(AUSTIN) — The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill Monday that would create a tax-credit program for businesses that donate to scholarship programs for low-income or disadvantaged students. SB 4 by Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor would allow a business to write off donations of up to half of their annual tax liability to a non-profit organization that offers scholarships for private school tuition.
Students eligible for the program would have to come from a family that earns less than 250 percent of the federal free and reduced lunch program. Students who are in foster or institutional care and students with disabilities would also qualify. Scholarships would be limited to seventy-five percent of the cost of educating a student at a public school, which is about $5900 per year, or the cost of tuition at the private school, whichever was less. The program is capped at $100 million per year, which Taylor says would pay for about 16,000 scholarships. Private schools that accept scholarships under this bill must be accredited by the state and meet certain federal accountability standards.
Another provision of the bill would seek to help students that remain in public school. Twenty percent of the scholarship donations would go to create assistance grants for students that remain in public school, who could apply for up to $500 to help cover the cost of tutoring, transportation or extracurricular activities. Rural counties with less than 100,000 in population are exempted from the private school tuition provisions, but could still use the public school grant portion of the bill.
Senator José Rodríguez of El Paso raised some questions about the bill. "Why would we be taking money from our public schools and giving it to private schools," asked Rodríguez. Schools are given funding based on number of attendees, and Rodríguez raised the concern that taking students out of public schools will lower their overall funding. Taylor replied that with the state adding 80,000 students per year, a loss of 16,000 students wouldn't impact school funding appreciably. "I don't think you're going to have any district losing money under this bill, because of the growth that's coming from other students," said Taylor. The bill will likely face a final vote on Tuesday.
Also Monday the Senate passed an omnibus border security bill, SB 3 by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell. The bill would authorize the construction of two facilities in the border region, one to train law enforcement personnel and another to act as a clearinghouse for intelligence relating to border area crime. It would direct DPS to study the feasibility of southbound checkpoints to check for guns and other contraband flowing into Mexico from the United States. It would also tighten penalties for human smuggling. That bill now heads to the House for further consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 21 at 11 a.m.