MN Legislature is missing an opportunity to support kids

With the Minnesota Legislature’s special session set to adjourn tomorrow, Friday, efforts to make meaningful progress on reform proposals continue.

But one proposal aimed at addressing and eliminating education inequities that plague our state has unfortunately, it appears, been tabled.

S.F. No. 13 authored by Senator Roger Chamberlain would provide a tax credit for donations to fund K-12 Equity and Opportunity scholarships. Low- and middle-income families would be able to use these scholarships to access a range of K-12 school options, including public schools or school districts in Minnesota serving 30 percent or more of low-income students. Transportation scholarships would be available, as well, to help transport students to the desired school. Receipt of a scholarship would not affect a student’s eligibility for special education services.

The tax-credit scholarships would be funded through private contributions made to non-profit scholarship granting organizations with 501(c)(3) status that have been approved by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Contributions to the qualified organizations would be eligible for a 70 percent state tax credit up to certain limits. Eligibility for the scholarships would be income-based, but the scholarships would also be available to students in special education programs.

The bill requires the participating schools to administer the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (state tests in reading, mathematics, and science) or a norm-referenced test. The schools must also annually report student performance on the tests on the school’s website.

Governor Walz has pledged to plug gaps in education and address the discrepancies in academic achievement. But this vision is not possible until more Minnesota students have access to a quality education. Nearly two-thirds of Minnesotans have said they support opportunity scholarships, and it is time for our state to take this great step forward in creating more educational opportunities for our next generation of leaders.

Over 20 states—including our neighbors Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin— are providing similar scholarships to thousands of families. For years Minnesota has needed new strategies to better serve our students most in need of new opportunities.

The coronavirus pandemic has confirmed there are glaringly obvious gaps and inequities in different forms in our education system. Because one size doesn’t fit all in education, policymakers have the opportunity to address these disparities and shake up the status quo instead of simply rushing to restore it. These scholarships are a good starting point.