South Dakota’s Partners in Education Tax Credit Program was enacted in 2016, launches in 2016, and will begin providing scholarships in 2016–17. This program provides tax credits to insurance companies who donate to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations (SGOs), which will then provide private school scholarships to students who meet the income and grade requirements. Learn more about the program’s funding, eligibility, and rules on this page.
South Dakota’s Partners in Education Tax Credit Program offers tax credits to insurance companies that donate to scholarship granting organizations (SGOs), which provide private school scholarships to eligible students.
The average value of all scholarships awarded by an SGO may be worth up to 82.5 percent of the state’s share of the per-pupil allocation ($4,023 in 2015–16). SGOs must pay half of the scholarship amount at the beginning of the first semester and half at the beginning of the second semester.
Students are eligible if they live in families with incomes up to, but not exceeding, 150 percent of the federal free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program ($67,294 for a family of four in 2015–16) and either (1) attended a public school the preceding semester, (2) is starting at a K–12 school in South Dakota for the first time, or (3) is entering kindergarten, first grade, or ninth grade. Once a student has received a scholarship, that student remains eligible for three years or, if the student is entering high school, until high school graduation regardless of income. After the initial period of income eligibility, scholarship students remain eligible if their family income in the prior year does not exceed 200 percent of the FRL program ($89,725 for a family of four in 2015–16).
South Dakota’s tax-credit scholarship program is a great step forward in educational opportunity for students across the state, but it has room to grow. Nearly 60,000 South Dakota school children are eligible for the scholarship program out of about 147,000 statewide. That’s less than half of the total student population. Policymakers should expand this program’s eligibility criteria to allow more students across the state to access a school that best meets their learning needs and add a “once-in always-in” clause. Furthermore, tax-credit scholarships are inherently limited because they rely solely on charitable contributions from taxpayers. Currently the program allows an 80 percent tax credit for contributions and has a cap of $2 million. To incentivize more giving, the state should offer a 100 percent credit for contributions and remove the cap or insert an automatic annual escalator. Neither should policymakers limit the program only to insurance companies. If the program allowed other South Dakota corporations and taxpayers to contribute to SGOs in return for tax credits, SGOs could distribute more and better-funded scholarships to students. The scholarships’ portability throughout the school year is a positive feature, but student and parent choices might be hindered because the program rigidly prescribes that scholarships be distributed only at the start of each public school semester. Scholarship funding should be fluid to allow parents to change schools, whenever necessary. South Dakota’s testing requirements are good, because they empower parents to choose the standardized exam their children take. But the state should remove the rule requiring South Dakota students to attend public school for one semester prior to application, particularly because the funds following a child to private school are made up of charitable contributions and not public dollars.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.