An agency that hands out tax credits to private schools can’t say how the state money is spent

House leaders, who say they want to increase public education spending, have also proposed more than tripling the size of a program that directs millions in state funds to private schools, even though no information is available on how the money will be spent. is spent.

The state Department of Revenue is responsible for certifying which private schools qualify for funding through the Children’s Promise Act. But according to the answers from the Ministry of Finance, no information is available on how the money is spent.

“DOR does not know how the money was used,” the agency said in response to questions from lawmakers.

When asked about the number of children served through the House-supported Children’s Promise Act, DOR said: “This information is provided to DOR at the time of application… but is not updated annually. DOR does not store this information other than in the original request.”

In the original application, “DOR reviews the information provided and issues a ruling indicating whether they are eligible or not. The original request is covered by confidentiality statutes.”

The House’s desire to significantly expand the scope of the Children’s Promise Act comes against the backdrop of many public school advocates concerned about the House’s efforts to rewrite the longstanding Mississippi Adequate Education Program, that provides for the state’s share of the resources for basic services. operate local schools.

While several elements of the House of Representatives plan have been praised by public school advocates, many have also expressed concern that groups supporting that rewrite plan also support directing public funds to private schools through vouchers. Before the House of Representatives’ MAEP rewrite was made public, these pro-voucher groups unveiled a plan that was virtually identical to the House proposal.

But supporters of the House plan have insisted their proposal has nothing to do with vouchers. And to make that point clear, around the time the House began approving its proposed rewrite of the funding formula, bills introduced by House leaders to establish a far-reaching voucher program were allowed to quietly die.

But the Children’s Promise Act remains alive in the legislative process, and there is little subtlety about private school supporters believing that tax breaks are more attractive to them than vouchers.

The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools, which includes most of the private schools in Mississippi that receive the tax credit funds, said in an article titled “The ABCs of school choice” that tax credits with revenue going to private schools were now seen as more beneficial to them considered than vouchers.

“Proponents of freedom are instead looking to policies such as tuition tax credits and tax credits for donations to scholarship funds, to free up resources so parents and donors can finance their own choices,” the MAIS newspaper said. “Such policies increase parents’ freedom of choice without shifting the burden for their children onto others.”

Under the Children’s Promise Act, a person can make a donation to one of the private schools certified by the Department of Revenue and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to 50% of the donor’s state income tax liability.

The maximum a private school can currently receive through the program is $405,000 per year.

The program was started in 2019 and touted as a mechanism to provide additional funding to nonprofits that care for foster children. But a provision to provide tax credits to private schools was left in the bill.

Currently, the law allows a total of $9 million in tax credits to be paid out to private schools each year. The original House plan being debated this session would add another $6 million in tax breaks for the current year and $24 million for 2025.

Private schools are eligible for tax credits if they provide education:

  • Children in the foster care system.
  • Children with a chronic illness or a physical, intellectual, developmental or emotional disability.
  • Children are eligible for free or reduced meals.

To date, approximately 60 schools have received a total of $8.9 million in tax credits for the current calendar year. Those receiving the maximum $405,000 this year include Lamar School in Meridian and Wayne Academy in Waynesboro. Other schools receiving the most in state tax credits include: Heritage Academy in Columbus, which will receive $402,900; Hartfield Academy in Flowood, received $397,800; Magnolia Heights in Senatobia, received $390,000; Jackson Academy, which received $341,000; Madison-Ridgeland Academy, which will receive $397,720; and Starkville Academy, which received $403,744.

Private schools received similar amounts in previous years, according to the DOR website.

The law does not specify how many children must be served before the private school benefits from the tax credit.

Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents Campaign, said technically if the school has one student with asthma, for example, it could receive that money.

According to the Ministry of Finance, of course no one checks whether the schools actually educate children, making them eligible for the tax benefit.

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