Dr. Esther White
As you may be aware, states such as Florida and Indiana have scholarship opportunities whereby individuals and corporations can donate money to an organization that funnels funds to students with a variety of special needs, including low-income students. The donor then receives all—yes, all—of the money back in the form of a state income tax credit. In one relatively small AACS school these funds have enabled an additional 40 students to join the student body.
South Carolina is currently exploring a similar kind of program. Right now the program is forwarded annually as a proviso attached to the SC state budget, which is approved each summer. Lobbying for this program is an organization called Access Opportunity SC. As the website explains, this SC program “allows challenged students across South Carolina to attend the credentialed private school of their families’ choosing.”
How do donations work?
SC taxpayers (individuals or corporations) donate to a scholarship funding organization (SFO) and can receive a tax credit for that donation. Donors
• May “claim a dollar-for-dollar credit on state income tax liability,”
• Are “limited to a maximum credit claim that is 60 percent of their one-year tax liability,” and
• Are “limited by a first-come, first-served annual statewide cap of $8 million.”
This is an amazing opportunity—last year I tried it out for myself and am delighted with the results. Based on the previous year’s taxes, I estimated 60 percent of my liability, rounded that down so I would be confident about the amount, and then wrote what was for me a very large donation to Advance Carolina, the SFO that was established in relation with the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools (of which BJA is a part). Through a simple additional step, my tax credit was reserved as part of that $8 million available. Then when I did my taxes this year, the credit was included and my tax refund was increased by that entire donation amount. Additionally, the donation amount increased my charitable giving—so I actually received slightly more back than I donated. (Yes, SC officials are fully aware of that consequence with this program.) In this way I was able to direct about half of my state income taxes to student scholarships in Christian schools that are connected to Advance Carolina, a tremendous blessing for me and for whichever student/s received that money. My goal for this year is to send my donation this summer, soon after the legislation is approved, to ensure that the cap is not reached before my donation arrives.
So far the Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children (ECENC) proviso has been restricted to students who have “exceptional needs” in learning and who have certain types of documentation to demonstrate those needs. The goal for the 2015-16 proviso is to add to the list of “exceptional needs” students those who have been in the foster care system in the recent past as well as children of active-duty military families. This summer we will learn what actually does get approved by the legislature. Please pray with us that this “foot in the door” legislation will lead to a needs-based tax credit through which a broader range of students can benefit from a similar scholarship.
Because the expectation is that the 2014-15 proviso will at least be renewed (if not expanded) this summer, families who have the needed documentation for a student with special needs in learning are welcome to apply now through Advance Carolina for a scholarship for the 2015-16 school year. Please note that applications require the signature of a school administrator who is both familiar with the proviso and with the school’s compliance to the proviso—and I am the BJA administrator designated to sign these documents.
Coming This Summer
Donors as well as families with students who may qualify under the additional categories that have been proposed may want to watch for changes in another month or so: the Access Opportunity SC website is an excellent resource for information.