SB 65 - This act creates the Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program to provide scholarships to students from unaccredited school districts for certain educational costs.
To be eligible for a scholarship, a student must reside in an unaccredited district. A student who receives an educational scholarship through the program will remain eligible until the student graduates from high school. The scholarship amount is the lesser of: the previous year's tuition and fees for nonscholarship students at the qualified school, ninety percent of the previous year's average current expenditure per average daily attendance for the student's district of residence, or the tuition amount set by the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council for the student's district of residence, if applicable.
Beginning in tax year 2015, a taxpayer may make a qualifying contribution to an educational assistance organization and claim a tax credit, as described in the act. The tax credit is for seventy-five percent of the amount of the contribution. The tax credit may be carried forward for four years and may be transferred, sold, or assigned. The annual cumulative amount of tax credits is limited at $50 million, which will be adjusted for inflation by the Department of Economic Development based on the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers for the Midwest region. The director of the Department of Economic Development must establish a procedure to apportion the amount of tax credits amongst all educational assistance organizations. The Director may reapportion those tax credits to educational assistance organizations that have used all, or a certain percentage, of their tax credits.
An educational assistance organization must meet certain requirements, including notifying the Department of Economic Development of its intent to provide scholarships; being a 501(c)(3) organization; providing a receipt to taxpayers for contributions; ensuring that funds are used as specified in the act; distributing scholarship payments four times per year in the form of a check, as described in the act; providing the Department of Economic Development, upon request, with criminal background checks on all employees and board members; ensuring that Equal Opportunity Scholarships are portable during the school year and can be used at any qualified school; and demonstrating financial accountability and viability, as described in the act.
Each educational assistance organization must not provide scholarships for eligible students to attend any school with paid staff or board members, or relatives, in common with the educational assistance organization. Scholarships must not be limited to only one qualified school or to students from only one school district, school, or other educational venue.
Each educational assistance organization must publicly report to the Department, by June first annually, the name and address of the organization, the name and address of each student who received a scholarship, the total number and dollar amount of contributions during the previous calendar year, the total number and dollar amount of scholarships awarded during the previous calendar year, and the total number and dollar amount of scholarships awarded during the previous year to students eligible for free and reduced lunch.
A qualified school must comply with state laws applicable to public schools for criminal background checks for employees and exclude from employment anyone prohibited from working in a public school. A qualified school must also meet certain accountability measures, including fiscal soundness, accreditation, and surveys of parents and students.
Each qualified school must perform the following actions: comply with all health and safety laws applicable to nonpublic schools; hold a valid occupancy permit if required; certify it will not discriminate in admissions based on race, color, religion, disability or national origin; be fiscally sound, as described in the act; be accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency, as described in the act; administer a parental satisfaction survey; and provide information to parents.
A qualified school whose tuition is higher than the scholarship amount may allow a work-study program at the ninth grade and higher levels. Each qualified school must have on record a form signed by the parent agreeing to the release of certain information to the director of the Department of Economic Development.
The Department of Economic Development must provide standardized forms for program participants. It may conduct a financial review or audit of any educational assistance organization if it possesses evidence of fraud. In addition, the Department may bar an educational assistance organization from participating if it has failed to comply with program requirements.
The Joint Committee on Education must conduct a study of the scholarship program. The Joint Committee may contract with one or more qualified researchers if assistance is needed and funds are available. The study must be conducted during the first five years of the program for the period of those five years.
The provisions of this act will sunset in six years unless reauthorized.
This act is substantially similar to SB 838 (2014) and is similar to HB 1579 (2014).