Recently, I listened to the committee hearing on HB 279. If you’re not familiar, HB 279 seeks to increase income tax credits benefitting private schools in the state, from a limit of $150 to $200,000. You read that right, an increase of 133,233%.
I have been an educator for more than 20 years, I am currently employed because of the school’s choice, and I serve on a local school board. I am not against a school’s choice and what it can mean for students. I am an advocate for every student receiving a quality education. I believe that schools should be more innovative. I am also convinced that how school’s choice legislation is implemented matters and certain legislation that is advertised as school’s choice is to largely defund public education. That is my concern with HB 279.
I mentioned being an educator for more than 20 years. Six of those years were teaching public school in Arizona where there has been similar tax credits since 1998. Those have not led to increased student achievement, but have diverted necessary funding, and have lined the pockets of state legislator, Steven Yarbrough. He was instrumental in getting the tax credit laws passed, then became executive director of one of the largest school-tuition organizations and if you follow the money he made millions.
I’m glad HB 279 does limit the scholarship amount to not exceed the per-pupil spending in Montana public schools, but it needs further amending. The $200,000 limit is an absurdly high leap from the current $150. The scholarship organizations should be required to put a minimum of 95% of tax credit funds towards scholarships and private schools that receive this public money from tax credits must have accountability. Montana, let’s not defund the education of the 94% of our K-12 students that attend public schools.
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