School choice advocates and opponents converged in the State Capitol Tuesday as legislators discussed bills that would offer scholarships to students who choose to opt out of public schools.
Dueling signs appeared in the rotunda as Education Minnesota union members declared their support for public schools while school choice proponents rallied for the proposed legislation as part of National School Choice Week.
Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, one of the authors of the House scholarship bill, said the change would expand school choice and benefit all students.
Minnesota already allows families to claim tax breaks for tuition and non-tuition related expenses like books or tutoring.
The Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act would allow individuals and corporations to receive a tax credit for donating to nonprofit organizations that award K-12 scholarships to children from income-qualifying families.
At a separate news conference, Education Minnesota along with local faith and community leaders equated the tax breaks to vouchers, which allow public money to be spent for private schools. They say the tax credits are another way to deplete public school funding.
“We are concerned about where the dollars are going to go,” said Delene Thomas-Sanders, a seventh-grade teacher at Skyview Middle School in Oakdale. She said the proposed change would contribute to the achievement gap between white and minority students.
Supporters of school choice believe the change would give students of color and low-income students more opportunities and improve school competition.
“I want families to have what is best for their children,” said Reynolds-Anthony Harris, a leader in a local effort to support entrepreneurship among African-Americans.
Education Innovation Policy Chair Sondra Erickson expects the measure to pass both houses and land on Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.
“Precedent was set a long time ago when we began nonpublic pupil aid,” she said.
If the bill becomes law, the scholarships could start as soon as 2018 and will be based on income. Participating families cannot have an income that is twice the income required for free and reduced lunch.