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TX Senate Committee Approves Tax Credits

“Senate panel OKs measure to fund tuition at religious and private schools”
by Will Weissert, Associated Press
April 11, 2013

A state Senate committee on Thursday approved a high-profile school voucher plan, sending it to the full chamber for what could be a fierce floor fight.

Senate Bill 23 by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would offer tax credits to businesses that provide scholarship funding for low-income students who want to transfer from low-performing public schools to private or religious schools.

The bill would allow businesses to write off 100 percent of their state business margins taxes, but it caps the total value of all donations at $100 million.

Patrick, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, says the plan could help as many as 10,000 students transfer.

His committee referred the bill to the Senate, but not before an important modification was approved: To qualify for scholarships, children have to be at risk of dropping out of school and come from low-income families. The measure originally allowed at-risk or low-income students to seek scholarships.

The amendment changing or to and was made by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

“I understand the author’s intent with this bill,” Lucio said. “This could give those students who most need educational choice a voucher.”

Patrick accepted the change, saying his intent was “to help students who are poor and in failing schools.”

Lucio responded, “I am for helping poor kids, including keeping them in our public schools.”

To get scholarships, students must come from households with incomes less than 200 percent of that needed to qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has guidelines for who qualifies based on family size.

A family of three can qualify to get reduced-price or free lunches at school if their yearly income doesn’t exceed $36,000. Patrick’s proposal would allow families to seek assistance if they have income up to double that level.

Opponents say the plan will drain yet more funding from public schools still reeling from the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education that the Legislature approved in 2011. But Patrick said money for his plan would come from other portions of the budget — not out of funding already earmarked for public schools.

Although Patrick’s fellow Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, his bill faces seemingly long odds. It has yet to be considered by the state House, which while passing its version of the state budget last week, the lower chamber overwhelmingly approved an amendment to keep public funding in public schools

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