School Choice Program Passes in South Dakota, Similar One Moves Forward in Maryland

South Dakota has approved a major piece of school choice legislation. The state’s new tax credit scholarship program allows families earning an income up to 150 percent of the federal poverty line (about $67,000 for a family of four in 2015-16) to qualify for scholarships to attend private schools. The funds that these scholarships offer come from private contributions that individuals or businesses can make in exchange for a tax credit. A maximum amount of $2 million in tax credits is available for the program’s first year.

IJ helped get the program passed by advising both the legislature and Gov. Dennis Daugaard on the constitutionality of tax credit scholarships under the South Dakota Constitution. IJ Attorney Erica Smith explains:

“There is no doubt that the program is constitutional.  South Dakota’s constitution only restricts public funds from going to religious schools, and the courts have been unanimous that tax credits are not public funds.

Two million dollars has the potential to help thousands of low-income students attend a school that is better suited to their individual needs.  We hope that in the future, the program will allow even more scholarships.”

No scholarship tax credit program has ever been struck down.  Of these 20 programs across the country, eight have been challenged in ten different court cases.  All of these challenges were dismissed by the courts, with the exception of Montana, which is still being litigated and has not yet resulted in a decision.  IJ has been involved in each of these challenges to help defend the programs.

Meanwhile, legislators in Maryland have found bipartisan agreement on a program that expands student options by providing scholarships to low-income families. The Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today Program (BOOST) is a $5 million grant program agreed upon in budget negotiations and approved by the state General Assembly on March 29.  It now awaits the Governor’s signature.

“It’s a win-win for not just the people of the state of Maryland, but for all students,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).

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