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Private school scholarship program adjustments advance from committee


The Partners in Education program, which offers scholarships for students to attend private schools – is receiving support in the legislature. This time, lawmakers are focused on the potential for future scholarship granting organizations, or SGOs.

Earlier this session, a bill passed the House Education Committee to raise the tax credits available to participants in the Partners in Education program. Those participants are an undisclosed group of the state’s insurance companies.

This week, Dell Rapids Republican Rep. Jon Hansen spoke in support of amending the program’s parameters.

“This bill addresses two issues," Hansen said. "Number one, it ensures that SGOs have a South Dakota nexus, and addresses the division of insurances concern about what we can call a race to obtain contributions from tax credit-eligible organizations.”

While the state only has one SGO currently, Hansen said this is a forward-looking change.

“The reason that’s necessary is because if you do have multiple SGOs, what’s going to happen is they’re going to go try to get contributions and they’re going to race to the Division of Insurance and say, ‘we want to distribute these,'" Hansen said. "That’s just disorderly.”

However, the program is widely opposed by the public education community. One of the main criticisms describes it as a taxpayer-funded private school voucher program.

At the root of the debate is a philosophical question – would the tax credits offered to companies for participating have gone to the state’s general fund were this program not in place. Further, there is no regulation against these companies setting up similar scholarship programs without these credits.

There was no opposition testimony Monday, and the bill advanced unanimously.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture