Gazelka: Children deserve an education that isn’t based on ZIP code or income.

Bill was heard today in Minnesota Senate Taxes Committee; would provide access to a range of quality school options

Legislation that gives parents the opportunity to access the best educational option for their children, the Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act, is an important way to eliminate financial barriers that can prevent low- and middle-income students from achieving their dreams, said Minnesota Senate leaders, parents and educators today.

The bill, S.F. 1872, is being authored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) and was heard today (Tuesday, March 19) in the Minnesota Senate Taxes Committee. Companion legislation, H.F. 1894, is authored by Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) in the House.

The legislation would authorize creation of Opportunity Scholarships – scholarships provided to low- and middle-income children to attend a school of choice. They are funded through private contributions made to non-profit scholarship granting organizations with 501(c)3 status and must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Similar programs exist in more than 18 states including the neighboring states of Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

“There are great schools in every part of our state, doing amazing things to help students find a pathway to success,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a co-author of the legislation. “But too many kids don’t have access to the best school for them. No one should be denied the opportunity to receive the education that’s best for them because of their ZIP code or their family’s financial situation. We can and must do better.”

“The time has come for new opportunities and new solutions to some old education problems,” said Sen. Chamberlain. “Opportunity Scholarships are about providing access to an education that a family chooses for their children. This legislation will help our children access the best possible learning environment. Opportunity Scholarships offer families, especially those from underserved neighborhoods, access to a range of quality school options, without the worry of financial constraints.”

“We believe we have an obligation to teach the children of our community the skills they need to be successful adults,” said Benito Matias, Principal of Ascension School in Minneapolis and a graduate of Patrick Henry High School. “By expanding the types of schools available to parents, we can free them to find the school that best meets the needs of their child. Every child is unique, and students thrive when they’re matched with learning environments that meet their individual needs.”

Under the legislation, contributions to a non-profit scholarship granting organization would be eligible for a 70% state tax credit, up to certain limits. Eligibility for the scholarships would be income-based; families must not earn more than twice the amount of Reduced Priced Lunch eligibility in order to qualify. The program would begin in 2020 and would be capped at $35 million per year.

Minnesota is in need of education options. The latest test scores from Minnesota schools – released in August 2018 – showed no improvement in math and reading. Sixty percent of students met state reading proficiency standards in the 2017-18 school year. Math scores dropped to 57 percent of students meeting state standards, down from 59 percent in the previous year.

Minnesota also has a persistent achievement gap: a 35-percentage point gap between white and black students in reading and a 38-percentage point difference in math statewide, with even bigger gaps for students in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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