Hey Betsy Devos! Use That Money Is for Student Needs, Not Funding Private Schools

The Trump Education Budget for FY 2018 adds more than $250,000,000 to the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program established under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) to support educational research.  This research must benefit students with high needs.  Presumably economic, social, psychological, learning and developmental needs all make children fit within the embrace of this legislation.  It is intended by Congress to make lives and learning better for children. Fitting within this imperative of recognizing and meeting children’s “needs” is a serious requirement for a research proposal to be fundable using these federal resources.   

Congress directs the Department of Education to distribute these resources to researchers.  EIR funds are not meant to support children’s movement out of public schools to schools that do not show progress in innovative learning.  So why does President Trump believe he can use $250,000,000 of the EIR research budget to make tuition reimbursements to parents who want to send their children to private and parochial schools?  

Apparently the well conceived intentions of Congress and the oversight of researchers who are invested in education innovation – people who are responsible for reviewing proposals and allocating research funds under EIR – can be ignored by a White House that does not really value learning and does not respect expertise.

For those who do not know the EIR program – here is a description of the purpose of this legislation:  the EIR program is established to “provide funding to create, develop, implement, replicate or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-needs students and rigorously evaluate those innovations.  The EIR program is designed to generate and validate solutions to persistent educational challenges and to support the expansion of effective solutions to serve substantially larger numbers of students.”   

It would be a better investment in urban schools if the EIR education budget were to make an investment of $250,000,000 in understanding and healing the consequences of children’s exposure to poverty, toxic stress, violence in communities and trauma.  These traumas and stresses can have serious adverse impacts on a child’s brain development, creating disruptive behavior and inhibiting learning.  Creating a Trauma-Informed Education Fund under this program would make investments in innovative strategies that heal the effects of trauma and (literally) grow brain matter to improve self-regulation, reduce aggressive behavior, alter how children perceive threats and increase focused attention – all to contribute directly to improvements in students’ capacities to engage in learning and academic achievement.  We know childhood trauma is an important factor contributing to low-performing urban elementary schools.  But childhood trauma can be healed if we create nurturing, accepting, engaging and stimulating learning environments in schools.  We can create trauma-sensitive compassionate schools for urban disadvantaged children – if we have the political will and understand early childhood education as a collective moral responsibility.  We can do this.  

In 2012, Eric Holder’s “AG Task Force Report on Children Exposed to Violence” (pdf) recommended that federal funding continue to develop clinical and scientific strategies to increase effective evidence-based treatments for children exposed to violence.  The Task Force found that 60% of children’s lives (46 million children) are impacted by violence, crime, abuse and psychological trauma in a year. The costs of children’s exposure to trauma and violence are “astronomical.” These financial burdens fall on public systems for child welfare, juvenile justice and education.  The Task Force called for federal Departments to require that all grantees in areas of children’s needs address violence and psychological trauma by implementing and planning services and treatment collaboratively (48).  Federal grant guidelines should integrate evidence-based trauma informed principles whenever their activities impact children’s lives.  

Elementary schools are public institutions where children spend thousands of hours of their early lives.  Any federal funding to these schools in urban poor communities should address effects of childhood trauma on child development. Childhood trauma interferes with self-regulation, the ability to form relationships with peers and cope with overwhelming stress.  Mastering these developmental tasks is a fundamental foundation for learning. See Brooke Stafford Brizard’s excellent paper “Building Blocks for Learning” (pdf) published by TurnAround for Children in NYC.

The EIR obviously is a federal funding source that should integrate evidence-based and trauma-informed principles – requiring that grantees consider the adverse effects of trauma on children’s abilities to learn.  In fairness to people in the U.S. Department of Education who developed guidelines for and evaluate EIR  grant proposals – they have funded development of valuable and important research on children’s literacy, writing, self-regulation, student engagement, principals’ professional development , teachers’ effectiveness, students’ mindfulness, cooperative learning, education technology, college readiness , parents involvement,  leadership, summer learning, data-driven school transformations, and arts education, to name some areas of investment in innovative education research (EIR was originally the Investing In Innovation Fund, grants were identified as i3 grants).      

Obviously, a system that distributes education vouchers and tuition reimbursement to private schools to enable children to leave low-performing public school systems does not meet the criteria for federal funding under this Education Innovation Research legislation.  But Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposes to use EIR funding to distribute tuition vouchers of $12,000-$18,000/children to families who want an alternative choice for their child’s education.  We welcome an investment of $250,000,000 in education research and the public institutions that educate our children. What children in urban core schools need is a deeper investment in and commitment to make their schools successful.  We think this budgeted $250,000,000 to improve education could more wisely, morally and thoughtfully be invested in developing strategies and tools in schools that heal persistent childhood trauma and exposure to violence experienced by many poor children in our urban core schools.  This would be truly innovative.

Lincoln University fights for survival amid pressure on many fronts

A Lincoln University student makes their way uphill across the bare campus on Monday, June 19. Recent budget cuts have affected faculty and students of select degree programs. Mike Middleton, former MU interim chancellor, has been tasked with bridging the divide between Lincoln’s faculty and administration. Randy Mitchell, a student at Lincoln University, said the university has a history of dealing with financial challenges, but recent events have aggravated tensions. “If it was MU, there’d be protests,” Mitchell said.

Struggling schools fail to apply for millions in federal grants





1200 Educators Sign Letters Lobbying Congress to Protect Ed Funding

San Antonio


ISTE ADVOCACY KIOSK.JPGAdvocating for maximum federal funding of ed-tech programs is front-and-center at ISTE 2017, with a kiosk that greets thousands of conference visitors on their way into the Expo Hall.

As of mid-way through the show, more than 1,200 educators stopped by to send nearly 4,000 letters to their members of Congress from the exhibit, according to Ally Bernstein, a legislative counsel for ISTE from the Bernstein Strategy Group.

The letters—to their two senators and representative for each educator—are part of the organization’s push to garner support for increasing federal funding to the maximum $1.6 billion authorized for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, under Title IV Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA. These grants are designated for students to have a well-rounded education, for their health and safety, and effective use of technology in schools.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here, after filling out a form. When they send their letter, every educator is entered into a raffle to win an Alexa. “But we have found that many more people are interested in their civic duty to tell Congress about the importance of ed-tech funding,” said Bernstein in an email.

For 2017-18, Congress appropriated only 25 percent of the $1.6 billion authorized—or $400 million—and President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018-19 recommends no funding for the block grant.

This year’s block grant funding will be released July 1. The money is to be allocated to states via a formula based on Title I, which provides financial assistance to districts with high percentages of children from low-income families. The states, in turn, will distribute those funds to the local education agencies.

Distribution of the Title IV, Part A block grant funding to states is governed by a tiered formula, so that schools or districts that receive more than $30,000 must conduct a needs assessment, then use 20 percent for safe and healthy school activities, 20 percent for well-rounded education programs, and the remaining 60 percent as they see fit for any of the three priorities, including technology. Spending on devices, equipment, software, and digital content would be capped at 15 percent.

Schools or districts that receive less than $30,000 must spend money in at least one of the three designated categories. Again, spending on hardware, software, and content would be capped at 15 percent. No needs assessment is required for grants under $30,000.

The issue of appropriating more for Title IV, Part A is a high priority, Bernstein explained, because state education staff and school district leaders are concerned that they will not be able to make meaningful investments with reduced funding. “Over 60 organizations in D.C. are fighting very hard for this program to get adequate funding,” Bernstein told an audience in a policy session at ISTE.

Also complicating matters is the fact that, in 2017, states can choose to run competitions to distribute the funding when it is released July 1. My colleague Alyson Klein explains this development, and what it means in more detail.

The ISTE advocacy letters also ask for the recently modernized E-rate program to be unchanged, and for “sensible” data privacy legislation.

Jon Bernstein, who provides legal counsel for ISTE, noted that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says the E-rate program is “worth fighting for,” but he thinks the program could be more efficient. One way to make it more efficient is by turning it into a per-pupil block grant, in Pai’s view. Bernstein argued that this would adversely affect schools in rural areas or states.

In general, ISTE is concerned about federal funding cutbacks across the board.

“I consider education to be the nation’s first line of defense,” said Craig Thibaudeau, ISTE’s chief external relations officer, in introducing the federal policy session. “Only 2 percent of our $4 trillion budget is spent on education. We’re in a position now where funding is less than it was 10 years ago—and it’s dropping.”

Image: Jon Bernstein, left, and Ally Bernstein, who are both legislative counsel for ISTE and who are NOT related to one another, stop to talk “ed-tech policy” in front of the advocacy kiosk at ISTE 2017.

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Connecticut Sea Grant awarded more than $470000 in federal funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WTNH) — Congressman Joe Courtney announced Tuesday that Connecticut Sea Grant has been awarded nearly $470,500 in federal funding.

The funding is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Connecticut Sea Grant is based at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point Campus located in Groton.

“Connecticut Sea Grant has aided local fishermen, shellfish farmers, and maritime conservation efforts in Long Island sound for fifty years,” said Courtney. “Whether it’s jumpstarting a local fishery or connecting local aquaculture producers to local communities, Sea Grant is a vital part of our region’s maritime economy. I am very glad that we were able to secure this funding to help CTSG’s research and education efforts.”

Related Content: Connecticut coastal program under federal budget cut threat

The director of the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program Sylvain De Guise says the grant will support researchers in the state.

This grant will directly support local researchers who will improve our understanding of key coastal and marine issues in our state, and enable our staff to continue to share objective, science-based information for the benefit of coastal communities, economies and ecosystems. Communities and businesses have come to rely on Sea Grant for issues ranging from supporting fisheries, growing shellfish, keeping ecosystems productive, and keeping coastal communities safe in view of less predictable weather patterns. Sea Grant is even helping the development of new businesses, such as kelp aquaculture. This would not be possible without federal funding,” De Guise said.

Sea Grant is a national network that is comprised of 33 Sea Grant programs at flagship universities in coastal and Great Lake states throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, according to a press release. The release says the National Sea Grant College Program encourages the stewardship of marine resources through research, education, outreach and technology transfer.

The Connecticut Sea Grant Program has three focuses. They are research, outreach and education.

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Apply Now for USDA Agricultural Education Funds – $8.85 Million Available

Hill and Dale Farm in Berryville, VA. USDA photo by Lance Cheung
USDA’s Risk Management Agency announced up to $8.85 million for risk management education and training to assist producers, with the funding helping organizations such as universities, county cooperative extension offices and nonprofit organizations to develop training and education tools to help farmers and ranchers learn how to effectively manage longterm risks and challenges. The deadline for applications is 5:00 p.m. ET on July 10, 2017.

Farming is a risky business. Natural disasters and extreme weather can have immediate and devastating effects on farms, crops and livestock. That’s why it’s critical for producers to better understand those risks and how to properly plan for them.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) provides funding for organizations to partner with the agency to provide education and training nationwide. This year RMA announced up to $8.85 million for risk management education and training to assist producers, including limited resource, socially disadvantaged and other traditionally underserved farmers and ranchers. The funding also targets training for new producers and military veterans returning to farm and ranch. The request for applications are available on www.grants.gov. To be considered, applications must be submitted through the Results Verification System website at http://rvs.umn.edu no later than 5:00 p.m. ET on July 10, 2017.

Past partner organizations have trained producers in areas of risk such as production, legal, financial, marketing, or human risk. Training may focus on crop insurance, livestock products, estate or business planning, farm transition, or other risk management practices.

Available funding for this year’s partnership application includes $4.85 million for the Crop Insurance in Targeted States Program for crop insurance programs where there is a low level of Federal crop insurance participation and availability. The targeted states are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Additionally, $4 million in funding is available for the Risk Management Education Partnerships Program, which provides funding for the development of general nationwide crop insurance education as well as other risk management training programs for producers.

RMA serves U.S. producers through effective, market-based risk management tools that strengthen and sustain their economic stability. RMA is committed to helping farmers build a strong farm safety net and ensuring American agriculture excels well into the future. Risk management education is one way to do that. For more information visit the Risk Management Agency website.

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Charlotte Norberg, South Conway County School District teacher, (sitting) reviews content with Dr. Debbie Dailey, College of Education assistant professor, during a workshop at the University of Central Arkansas STEM Institute.

The University of Central Arkansas STEM Institute has received several grants that total $359,547 during the 2016-2017 academic year.

One of the grants the STEM Institute received was $57,780 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant was funded by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and flowed through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE).

Dr. Uma Garimella, director of the STEM Institute, said the grant, titled “Blending Mathematics and Science,” is being used to train 20 teachers, grades five to eight, from the South Conway County and Little Rock School districts.

Professors from the UCA departments of Biology, Mathematics, and Teaching and Learning provide teachers with 60 hours of professional development training to use integrated math and science to energize their classroom teaching and to improve student understanding, interest or involvement and ultimately, achievement.

“It’s just not teaching it, but making it relevant to their teaching, and all of this is linked to the standards they are supposed to teach,” said Garimella. “I think this is one of the best programs we’ve had in a long time.”

Another grant to the STEM Institute is for $6,600 from the Arkansas STEM Coalition to promote STEM education in classrooms grades three through six through the purchase of science equipment and supplies.

“Each school will receive approximately $3,000 worth of science equipment based on the science content needs of the students and the teachers,” Garimella said. “The equipment will be used by the students as a science laboratory with hands-on learning situations to develop an understanding of science concepts in physical science.”

The STEM Institute mathematics and science specialists provide the professional development necessary to increase the teachers’ content and instructional skills in math and science. Funding for the two science specialists was provided by an ADHE grant of $173,000.

The STEM Institute also received a $122,167 grant with the Arch Ford Educational Cooperative to create a partnership with five high-need school districts, Catholic Schools of Arkansas and Academic Plus Charter School. The program proposes to develop science initiatives, which will augment learning progressions to support the new Arkansas science standards to improve science instruction in grades kindergarten to four. The goal is to enhance teacher content knowledge and teaching skills that prepare students for success through developing a vertical team to integrate science, mathematics, literacy, technology and embracing project-based learning.

“The services of the UCA STEM Institute, if you really look closely, is providing teachers with outstanding content knowledge and pedagogy,” Garimella said. “Our goal is to provide support to teachers and also provide resources.”

Supreme Court Rules Religious School Can Use Taxpayer Funds For Playground

Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Mo.

Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Mo.

Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

Updated at 7 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds available to nonprofits under a state program could not be denied to a school run by a church.

“The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

By denying a benefit to a church school because of its avowedly religious character, he said, the state is penalizing the free exercise of religions guaranteed by the Constitution.

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In an apparent attempt to limit the reach of the decision, at least for now, Roberts dropped a footnote declaring that the ruling applied only to discrimination for playground resurfacing, and that “we do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

Joining the decision in full were Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote separately to emphasize “the peculiar benefit nature of the public benefit here,” and he noted pointedly that the court has previously ruled that ” ‘cutting off church schools from’ such ‘general government services as ordinary police and fire protection … is obviously not the purpose of the First Amendment’ ” ban on state establishment of religion.

Also concurring in the judgment, but not the entire opinion, were Justice Clarence Thomas and the court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch. They would have gone further, and would have deemed a denial of funds to religious schools in general to be unconstitutional unless the state could show a justification “of the highest order.”

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School choice advocates rejoiced at the decision, seeing it as a vehicle for funneling taxpayer money to private religious schools.

Dissenting from the decision were Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sotomayor, who attended parochial schools during her childhood, took the unusual step of dissenting orally from the bench. She called the majority opinion “radical,” declaring that it “profoundly changes” the relationship between church and state “by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church.”

The nation’s history, she maintained, guarantees the free exercise of religion, “to choose for ourselves whether to believe and how to worship,” without allowing the government to be part of that religious process. “The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.”

The court’s ruling came in the case of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., which operates a preschool and day care learning center as part of its church ministry.

Playground Case Could Breach Barrier Between Tax Coffers, Religious Schools

In 2012, the church applied for a grant from the state of Missouri to essentially rubberize its playground surface, using old and discarded tires. It applied despite written regulations that barred state grants to religious institutions.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which administers the grant program, had enough money to fund 14 of the 44 applicants. Although Trinity Lutheran would have qualified for one of the grants, the state turned it down, citing the state constitution’s ban on any state aid, direct or indirect, to religious schools.

Trinity Lutheran went to court, claiming that the grant denial interfered with its free exercise of religion and unconstitutionally discriminated against the school based on religion.

Lawyers for the church school argued that the grant program was open to all not-for-profit schools, except religious ones. Thus, they said, religious schools were being treated “worse than everyone else,” as David Cortman, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, put it. Moreover, he said the government in this case “is not being asked to fund a religious activity. It’s funding the playground where students play.”

Not so, the state of Missouri countered. The Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution, in its own words, forbids only government action that prohibits the free exercise of religion; it does not require the government to subsidize churches or provide equal funding opportunities to religious and non-religious groups alike.

The state continued that position before the Supreme Court, but shortly before the case was to be argued, a new Republican governor, Eric Greitens, took office in Missouri and declared that he was changing the previous long-standing policy on aid programs to religious schools. He blamed “government bureaucrats” and said he would defend “people of faith who are too often under attack.”

While Monday’s decision involves a small grant program for playground resurfacing, the repercussions will undoubtedly send ripples through public and parochial school programs across the country.

The Missouri Constitution’s ban on aid to religious schools is similar to provisions in another 36 states. In recent years, as the Supreme Court has become increasingly willing to lower the wall separating church and state under the federal Constitution, these state constitutions have become bigger and bigger obstacles to those like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an ardent advocate of so-called school-choice programs. And advocates of religious liberty have gone to court rather than seeking through the democratic process to get rid of the state constitutional provisions that bar all aid to religious schools.

To opponents and supporters of such taxpayer aid to religious schools, Monday’s decision in the Trinity Lutheran case is the camel’s nose in the tent.

Mars Hill nursing school receives $2 million grant to increase diversity – Asheville Citizen

MARS HILL – Mars Hill University has been awarded a federal grant of up to $2 million over the next four years to help train Western North Carolina nurses.

The Nursing Workforce Diversity grant will provide $500,000 for Mars Hill in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and is expected to be renewed for three more years.

The goal of the Nursing Workforce Diversity program, administered through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is to increase access to nursing education for students from backgrounds that are underrepresented among the current nursing workforce.

For Mars Hill, “that dovetails perfectly with the very reason the university began its nursing programs,” according to a press release from the university, which notes that the Judge-McRae School of Nursing was established to serve the Western North Carolina region and disadvantaged regions throughout North Carolina.

The grant gives Mars Hill an opportunity, according to the university, “to increase the number of nursing graduates who are diverse, representative of their communities, and skilled in serving disadvantaged communities with cultural sensitivity and compassionate care.”

“We are extremely grateful for the generous award of the Health Resources and Services Administration Nursing Workforce Diversity grant,” said Cathy Franklin-Griffin, professor of nursing and dean of the Judge-McRae School of Nursing. “This grant provides … the youngest school of nursing in western North Carolina … with resources to enhance successful inclusiveness in our pre-nursing and nursing student populations.”

Mars Hill University will use the grant money to hire specialists and mentors with the skills to recruit students of diverse backgrounds into the nursing program and to help those students develop the skills necessary to succeed and graduate. But the bulk of the money will go to new scholarships awarded to 50 students in the pre-licensure bachelor of science in nursing program and 25 students in the registered nurse to bachelor of science in nursing program.

“The overarching goal of the initiative is to provide a more diverse and inclusive nursing workforce to the populations of the largely disadvantaged, health care underserved and economically challenged counties of rural Western North Carolina and throughout the state,” accoding to the university.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saw the merit in our proposal, and I am proud of the university’s nursing faculty and advancement staff for the high quality proposal,” said Mars Hill University President Dan Lunsford. “This grant will enhance the capacity to provide the high quality nursing education to more people across Western North Carolina, which, in turn, will enhance the medical care of citizens of the region.”

Franklin-Griffin said the grant will help enable the university’s nursing graduates to take to their local communities the foundations of nursing education excellence at Mars Hill University: courageous advocacy, ethical leadership, cultural competence, health promotion and community involvement.

“This is definitely a win-win situation for all involved now and seeds a rich harvest of future nursing graduates and healthier communities,” she said.

She also acknowledged the efforts of the university’s fundraising office, particularly those of foundations engagement and prospect research director Stacey Sparks, who spearheaded the grant application process.

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

To learn more, visit mhu.edu.

School choice programs pay off for donors

Dibye Bass’ 12-year-old son, like thousands of children, has benefitted from a school choice program championed by the Trump administration that offers big-money donors tax breaks which critics say are too generous.

Bass’ son was bullied in a Virginia public school and a scholarship tax credit program was his way out and into a private school that the single mother said has made a difference in her son’s life. Regardless of questions raised about the way the programs are financed, she said she is grateful.

“I see it as something that encourages you to give more. Not just for a tax break but because you’re doing something good,” she said.

But here’s what’s unusual, if not controversial, about the scholarship programs: Wealthy donors can potentially “profit” from their contributions through extensive tax benefits that can drain money from state treasuries which fund public services — including public schools.

The programs are available in 17 states and are being considered by legislators in several others. They are praised by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — a longtime school choice advocate — and are the focus of two congressional bills that seek to create a federal version of the program.

All the programs basically work this way: Individuals and businesses make cash or stock donations to scholarship granting organizations. The organizations award scholarships to qualifying families with K-12 students, primarily children in failing public schools or whose families’ income meets the state’s poverty threshold. Students can then attend a private or religious school of their choice. What makes these programs unique is that donors get a full or partial credit toward their state taxes, which they are not allowed when donating to most other charities, and this allows them to realize a sizable tax advantage when combined with a federal deduction on the same gift. Plus, in some states, donors also get a state deduction.

“What these scholarship tax credits do is they super charge that incentive up to 100 percent of the amount donated,” Carl Davis, senior tax expert with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, said. “And in the right set of circumstances, they’re receiving more back in tax breaks than they ever donated in the first place. … They’re able to claim a state tax credit and a federal deduction on a single donation and this is often profitable for them to do so.”

Davis’ organization released a report last month in conjunction with the American Association of School Superintendents that highlights nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia — where donors can make a profit from their donation.

Click image to enlarge

In Alabama, according to Davis, if a donor in a 28 percent tax bracket contributed $50,000 to a scholarship tax credit program, the donor would get a $50,000 tax credit to offset state taxes owed. Combine that tax credit with a federal deduction — calculated at the same tax rate — plus an additional state deduction for federal taxes paid, and the donor could receive up to $63,300 in tax cuts, which is a $13,300 profit.

Davis argues these programs divert much needed tax revenue away from state resources.

“Any other public service you can imagine can potentially suffer because of these scholarship tax credits,” he said. “There will be less funding for public schools, less funding for roads and bridges, health care, public safety.”

A Scripps survey of states found that from 2012 to 2016 at least $2.5 billion in tax credits were granted through the various state scholarship tax credit programs.

The programs aid in the redirection of money from state treasuries toward private schools at a time when states and the federal government are reducing public school funding. According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state funding for K-12 schools drastically declined in 31 states in  2014 compared to 2008, the most recent data available. President Trump, meanwhile, is calling for a $9.2 billion cut in the overall fiscal year 2018 federal education budget.

The generous incentives make donating to scholarship tax credit programs more lucrative than giving to most other non-profit organizations, which allow tax deductions but not credits. A tax deduction lowers the amount of income you’ll be taxed on. A tax credit reduces the taxes you pay on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Scripps obtained a list of corporate donors to Pennsylvania’s scholarship tax credit programs. Contributors can receive up to 90 percent of their donations back in tax credits. The documents show companies, including Comcast of Pennsylvania, PNC Bank, N.A. and CIGNA Health, donated millions of dollars from 2012 to 2014 and received the maximum tax credit. Depending on their tax bracket, some of the corporations might have been able to realize a profit after claiming a federal tax deduction.

The programs are such an attractive tax tool that they are being promoted as a profit-maker on websites of scholarship granting organizations, private schools and accounting firms across the country.

A website for a scholarship granting organization in Georgia advertises that the state pays you to donate. And an organization in Virginia gives step-by-step instruction on how to turn your $10,000 gift into $10,960 in tax savings.

However, in Florida, where donors to its program can receive a 100 percent tax credit, protections are in place that prevent donors from combining state credits and federal deductions to make a profit. 

Supporters of the programs maintain the focus has always been about offering families educational choices beyond public education.

“We shouldn’t be talking about mechanisms, we should be talking about what works for kids,” said Dr. Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, a non-profit based in Indianapolis, Ind., that advocates nationally for school choice. “There is a growing awareness that one size doesn’t fit all. And there’s also a growing awareness in urban areas that it [public education] hasn’t worked for families.”

Enlow said scholarship tax credit programs simply allow private individuals to support families. “We need more families being able to have access to more money,” he said.

Securing money for families is often left to non-profit organizations approved by the state’s scholarship tax credit program. In Virginia, the Diocese of Arlington is one of dozens of scholarship granting organizations in the state. Its schools accept students in the program, and its foundation raises money from donors.

“When we are soliciting these funds from donors, who, they might not otherwise donate without the credit, I think it can really be a win-win for both.” said Dr. Jennifer Bigelow, superintendent of schools for the diocese. “You have families who may have always desired a private school education or a Catholic school education, but it has not been a financial reality for them. And so these scholarship programs have been instituted to make it more attainable.”

The popularity of the state programs has spurred congressional bills that seek to create a national scholarship tax credit program to support K-12 students. If passed, the legislation would allow individuals and corporations to receive a federal tax credit on their contributions to scholarship granting organizations anywhere in the country.

The proposed legislation currently has no caps on the total amount of tax credits the federal government program would grant. However, there are dollar limitations on how much individual and corporate taxpayers can receive and safeguards would prevent donors from receiving multiple federal tax credits and deductions on a single donation.

But Davis argues of the state programs, “When you receive your full donation back … that’s not charitable.”

This story is the result of a three-month Scripps News investigation led by Angela M. Hill, national investigative producer. Angela is part of the Scripps Washington Bureau based in Washington, D.C. You can contact Angela at Angela.Hill@scripps.com or follow her on Twitter @AngelaMHill. Producer Mark Fahey created the interactives.