A bill that would create a school choice scholarship program funded by corporate donations was rejected by the state House on Monday.
House members voted 63-56 against advancing the bill to final action, dealing a blow to supporters who saw the measure as a means to give parents of poor or special needs students a choice in where to send their children to school.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Kasha Kelley said the measure wasn't about the parents' party affiliation. It was about giving the students an opportunity they otherwise might not receive, she said.
"We are sacrificing their future because we are protecting a system," said Kelley, an Arkansas City Republican.
The measure would have let parents of low-income or special needs children in elementary or secondary grades apply for scholarships to send their children to private or parochial schools.
Corporations would receive tax credits for contributions to a qualifying scholarship-granting organization. The program would have been capped at $10 million annually and would have awarded scholarships to students for up to $8,000 annually.
Public school districts would not be penalized if any students who received a scholarship left for a private or parochial school. The districts would continue to receive state funding for one year.
Opponents argued there were too many questions about the tax credit provisions and whether schools accepting the scholarships would be accredited and students enrolled could enter college without having to seek additional paperwork. They also said it was a step toward creating vouchers for parents to take outside the public school system, including home schools.
"What we're really talking about is diverting public funds to private or parochial schools," said Rep. Nile Dillmore, a Wichita Democrat opposed to the measure.
But Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and supporter of the bill, said rejecting the measure preserves the status quo in public schools and denies parents the chance to give their children a better education.
"We must move beyond being system-focused," Kinzer said.