Innovative tax credit program could use innovation

A few local school districts have managed to secure some of the million dollar funding made available in a state program offering tax credits to people who donate to public schools – but not without a few clicks of the mouse. frantic and little luck.

The Innovative Educational Programs Tax Credit is available to taxpayers who donate to provide additional funding for innovative education. The credit is equal to the amount of the donation – now up to $ 200,000 per person after the Legislature voted to increase the individual limit by $ 150 – and is available on a first come, first served basis until that the total credits claimed reach the threshold for the year.

That threshold was set at $ 1 million for 2022, and it took districts across the state five minutes to gobble up all of the funding.

School districts were required to pre-register with the Montana Department of Revenue in order to participate. The online portal went live at 8 a.m. on Jan. 3, and school districts across the state rushed to enter as much information as they could about the donations.

Kalispell, Somers-Lakeside and Whitefish each landed a slice of the pie, along with six other Montana communities, but many more completely missed out on what sadly turned into fierce competition that ultimately favored a wealthy school district.

The big winner was the Big Sky School District in southwest Montana – home of the private and ultra-wealthy Yellowstone Club and the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club – which took most of the total with a donation of $ 700,000.

Kalispell claimed $ 80,000 in donations from four donors, the second-highest total in the state. Somers-Lakeside received a donation of $ 5,000, while Whitefish received $ 2,000.

Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill said an additional $ 67,000 in donations allocated to Kalispell never even entered the system until the money ran out. These donations must be returned.

Meanwhile, Billings Public Schools walked away empty-handed despite a $ 20,000 donation received, as did Helena Public Schools.

While it’s encouraging to see so much interest from donors who want to support public education (and get that tax break), the feverish system used to disperse funding is far from fair, especially when ‘a school can claim 70% of the cake in seconds. because of a donor with deep pockets.

Rural districts with fewer resources – or even just slower internet speeds – don’t stand a chance in the mouse-click race.

The Revenue Ministry must build on this year’s results to create a more “innovative” and inclusive system by 2023, when the threshold rises to $ 2 million.

Obviously donors are eager to contribute, so let’s make the system work for as many students as possible across the state.

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