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Louisiana Lawmakers Consider Rebates for Donations to Public Schools

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Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki

On Wednesday, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill that will give a tax rebate to people and businesses that make contributions to fund the state's private school voucher program. State Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat, responded with a bill that turns the idea on its head: House Bill 1106 would offer rebates to people and businesses that donate to public schools, especially those with low scores on the state's accountability system.

The bill passed the state's House of Representatives unanimously on May 7, and is scheduled for a hearing in the state Senate's revenue and fiscal affairs committee on Monday. But Jackson and her supporters fear that the bill may not make it into law even if it passes the Senate. Gov. Jindal recommended an amendment to the bill that would require it to be funded through House Bill 1, over which the governor has line-item veto power.

Jackson said that this proposal leads her to fear that the governor would veto the program even if it's approved by the legislative bodies. "The private school bill did not have a cap, and it didn't have an amendment requiring it to be funded through House Bill 1," she said in an interview. No House member backed the amendment.

HB 1106 would offer rebates to public school donors on a sliding scale, depending on the academic performance of the school that's donated to. A donation to a school district with a ranking of F would lead to a 75% tax rebate, a donation to a school with a D to a 50% ranking, and so on (the full plan is laid out in the text of the bill). In order to be eligible for the rebate, donations would need to be directed at programs like tutoring or at technology needs that directly impact the academic performance of the school.

"When you push money out of school," Rep. Jackson said, "your books or technology may not be not purchased based on a per-student basis...you have to have resources sufficient for those needs." Even with the voucher program, she said, "public schools will be with us, and we have to support them in a way that they'll survive." Jackson worked as a teacher before becoming a lawyer.

The bill has a $10 million cap, which Jackson said was due to state's "tough" financial situation. The private school voucher rebate program, which will go into effect during the 2013-14 school year, does not have a cap.

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