PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State senators gave their blessing Thursday to legislation that would significantly increase the total amount of scholarships for students attending non-public K-12 schools in South Dakota.
SB 71 also would make more students eligible for the subsidies that are funded in a roundabout way through a credit against state government’s insurance tax.
Senators voted 27-5 to raise the cap to $3.5 million from the current $2 million for the Partners In Education tax-credit program.
The bill now heads to the state House for further action. Representative Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, is the lead sponsor there.
Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, introduced the legislation. He said Thursday the program paid tuition for 1,228 students in the past year, with 143 more on a waiting list.
“Which is part of the problem,” Schoenbeck said.
Foster children also would be covered.
During the bill’s committee hearing, opponents included major public-school groups such as Associated School Boards of South Dakota, School Administrators of South Dakota, South Dakota Education Association and several others.
The law specifically excludes “any school that receives a majority of its revenues from public funds.”
Speaking against it Thursday was Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert of Mission. He took senators back to the program’s start in 2016.
“When this bill first passed, we were promised they were never going to come back in to raise these taxes,” Heinert said.
Senator Jim Bolin, R-Canton, said the program has stayed at the original $2 million cap.
“This I believe is what true diversity is,” Bolin said.