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Education tax credits petition OK’d for circulation

Missourians soon may have a chance to sign a petition seeking to change the state Constitution, so that people can get tax credits for contributions supporting all elementary and secondary education institutions.

Secretary of State Jason Kander said last week the petition had been approved for circulation, to get signatures of people wanting a statewide vote on the idea.

Barbara Swanson of Jefferson City, who retired eight years ago after serving as assistant superintendent for the Jefferson City Catholic Diocese’s elementary schools, submitted the proposed amendment last month. Last week, she said she’s not sure how quickly they’ll start seeking signatures.

“This is a step-by-step, one step at a time” process, she said.

State law requires the secretary of state’s office to write the ballot title and ballot summary for all petition proposals.

Swanson generally is “okay” with the ballot language Kander wrote for the proposal — although she will be reviewing that language.

Swanson said she’s “not really representing a larger group” in proposing the amendment, but she did have “some assistance from the Missouri Catholic Conference” in drafting it.

Mike Hoey, the MCC’s director, said: “We support (this idea) and hope others will, too. It’s a way to involve the entire community in a cooperative effort to educate children.”

Swanson’s experiences teaching in public and parochial schools helped convince her the proposed amendment is needed.

“I value education very much, and I know that the moneys that both public and private schools have to deal with is very limited,” she explained. “This is a mechanism, I hope, that would enable people to get some tax benefits from a tremendous contribution they could make to the future of our communities and our country — just enabling young people to have some of the additional benefits that are, currently, not available in programs.”

Although foundations already help schools, Swanson thinks the proposed amendment will benefit more people.

“Some people, because of the economic situation, are certainly having difficulty making tuition payments, and schools feel the brunt of that with decreases in enrollment,” she said.

Missouri’s Constitution currently includes language prohibiting the General Assembly, local governments and school districts ever from making “an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever (or) anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose.”

The proposed amendment would remove that prohibition for any tax credits issued under the amendment.

“I have taught in several other states besides Missouri, which didn’t have that restriction in their constitutions,” Swanson said. “In fact, some states, like Iowa, provide a great deal of educational benefits to private and Catholic schools in their states, like textbooks and standardized tests are paid for all children in the state — and not a designation that it could only go to children in public schools.”

Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Assn., said the organization opposes Swanson’s proposal.

“It’s just one more in a long line of efforts to divert taxpayer money to private schools that are not accountable to the public,” Ghan explained. “Perhaps the most troubling provision of this proposal would eliminate the long-standing prohibition against providing taxpayer money to private schools.”

Swanson said: “This is additional money, so it’s not going to be taken from the public schools.

“And, also, these donations could be made to public schools — It benefits all schools and all children.”

The state auditor’s fiscal note on the proposal says: “Any decrease in state revenue will depend on the redemption of tax credits issued related to this proposal, initially limited to $90 million per year.

“Increased annual state operating expenses are expected to be initially about $120,000. Each individual school district will experience an unknown annual change in revenue.”

Supporters have until 5 p.m. next May 4 to submit completed petition pages.

The proposed amendment’s complete text can be found on the secretary of state’s web site, at www.sos.mo.gov/elections/2014petitions/14init_pet.asp, with a link under the petition’s number, 2014-045.

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