Sen. Heineman Brings Back Stealth Vouchers to Subsidize Private Schools

Remember the stealth voucher bill Senator Phyllis Heineman (R-13/Sioux Falls) offered last year? That plan to launder public dollars to support parochial schools passed the Senate but narrowly failed in the House last winter. Rep. Lee Schoenbeck snuck it into his proposal last summer for raising teacher pay (a proposal he may just be waiting to spring pending the outcome of this afternoon’s debate on the Governor’s sales tax for teacher pay bill).

Now Senator Heineman revives the proposal in full as Senate Bill 159. The bill allows insurance companies to get a break on their premium and annuity tax for giving low-income kids scholarships to attend private K-12 schools in South Dakota. The state would give up to two million dollars each year (down from four million in last year’s bill) to insurers to compensate them for up to 80% of the amount they spend on private-school scholarships.

Senator Heineman wants to give tax dollars to private schools. That’s unconstitutional and unwise, so Senator Heineman wants to use insurance companies as the middlemen for her stealth vouchers. That might be unconstitutional; it’s definitely unwise.

I don’t know who all the insurance salesmen are who want to support private schools instead of paying their taxes, but we shouldn’t let them shirk their duty to support the public schools that, as Rob Monson of the School Administrators of South Dakota reminded the Senate Education committee before they voted wrong yesterday, won’t ever kick any child out just because that child’s family is poor.

Like last year’s version, SB 189 targets its scholarship assistance very poorly. Families have to meet an income standard (earning less than or equal to 150% of the income threshold to qualify for free or reduced-priec meals) to qualify for a tax-offset scholarship, but once they’re in, the insurer can keep handing that family and getting a tax break for three years (or, for high school recipients, until the student graduates), even if the family recovers from a temporary income drop and gets back to earning good money.

Seriously? The state doesn’t keep giving citizens Medicaid or food stamps for three more years if those citizens land a good job and break out of poverty. The state targets aid to people who need it, not to people who needed it two years ago but now are doing fine.

But the bigger issue with Senator Heineman’s stealth vouchers is that we shouldn’t be giving this aid in the first place. The state exerts itself mightily to provide a free and adequate public education system to all 131,000 K-12 students in this state. If parents aren’t happy with their local public school, we let parents open-enroll their kids in any other public school they want, with no tuition charge. If that’s not enough for some parents, they are welcome to send kids to private school or home school on their own dime. But all of us, including insurance companies, have an obligation to continue paying our fair share for the public education that keeps our society together.

We’re having a hard enough time agreeing to spend more state dollars on public education. We don’t need to sacrifice any public dollars for private education.

4 Responses to Sen. Heineman Brings Back Stealth Vouchers to Subsidize Private Schools

  1. Health Insurance agents and brokers are mostly the base of the tea party, with the exception of Mike Rounds. Chiropractors round out the bidding with Rounds as the trifecta. Rounds does not use the middle man unless it is Joop to undermine schools and other social concerns.

  2. Parochial school students have an opportunity to benefit from state funding by enrolling in a public school. If they opt out of it they should pay their own way.

  3. I doubt that the governor wants to give up $2 million/year in tax revenue at the same time he’s trying to marshal funds to increase teacher pay. This bill is a dead man walking.

  4. I think I have it right… the State of South Dakota is going to use South Dakotan’s money that they individually or as a family pay in insurance premiums to insurance companies for insurance coverage and in turn the insurance company will take those funds, our money to fund private Schools instead of paying taxes and supporting public schools and improve teachers salaries…. the tax insurance companies pay comes from premiums collected. Perhaps everyone that pays for insurance does not wish to support private schools and already pay property tax. If given a choice, they might prefer the money from our premiums be refunded back to the people from which the money came. There are many people and families that fall into a poverty level, they can not afford private schools, especially after paying their insurance premiums. This is not a fair bill and unconstitutional.