New scholarship program bill introduced, discussed in comm.
A new scholarship program using public dollars for private education has been introduced as a bill and more detail was provided on the aims of the program.
Senate Bill 100, which creates a scholarship program utilizing public funds for private education and other services, was introduced in the third week of the 2023 legislative session and during the S.D. Department of Education’s budget hearing before the Joint Appropriations committee was discussed.
The bill proposes supplying a $4,000 scholarship to a student in foster care to use to cover the cost of private school or utilize other education related services. The student would maintain their scholarship eligibility after leaving foster care. A total of $15 million in state general funding is the proposed appropriation for the program, which would stop operations in 2026.
Laura Ringling, a Senior Policy Advisor for the Governor’s office, said they estimate “between a thousand and 1,200” school aged children are in foster care and would be eligible for the scholarship.
“We want to allow them access to (private school) if that’s what’s best for them,” Ringling told Joint Appropriations committee members.
The decision on the best education interests of the student could be made by a “number of different decision makers” according to Ringling, as she cited “biological parents still have rights” to make the decision, as do case workers, foster parents and “even the (circuit court) judge may have input.”
When asked who may make the final decision, Ringling said, “ultimately, the buck probably stops with the circuit judge” as they would “weigh in” on the public and private school choice for the child.
Just last year, foster care students were added to the eligibility requirements of South Dakota’s other private school scholarship, the Partners in Education Scholarship Program, which is funded by donations from insurance companies who receive a credit from the insurance company premium and annuity tax and removes $3.5 million in state money from the budget.
Ringling noted foster care students are “eligible for a” private school scholarship already through the Partners in Education program, which is “covering private school tuition” for fewer than 10 foster care children currently. She added the state “haven’t heard” of any foster care children not being covered who have applied for the current private school scholarship program.
ASBSD is opposed to SB 100, which has been assigned to the Senate Education committee, but does not have a hearing date yet, through legislative resolution B4. Public Funding for Non-Public Education.
For updates on this bill and others during the 2023 legislative session, check the ASBSD Blog and Billtracker page.
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