Expanded tax credit would help more kids access after-school programming

May 19 — MANKATO-A proposed expansion to a state tax credit would help more children in the Mankato area access after-school programming.

Minnesota’s K-12 tax credit is designed to cover 75% of costs for educational programs outside of tuition. A family’s maximum amount is $ 1,000 per child, which could go toward books, tutors, musical instruments and other after-school activities.

The credit phases out for taxpayers earning more than $ 33,500, however, an unchanged threshold since lawmakers enacted the credit in 1997. Raising it, as proposed by both the Minnesota House and Senate to different degrees, would steer assistance toward more families who’d otherwise struggle to afford program costs.

Jenny Stratton, coordinator of the Connecting Kids program in Mankato, will be closely watching the end of the legislative session in the hopes lawmakers expand the tax credit.

“I feel very good about it,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of awareness, and really with COVID there’s been a lot of reflection on the value of after-school activities for kids and families.”

Connecting Kids, a Greater Mankato Area United Way program, offers its own scholarships to families, with eligibility tied to federal free and reduced school meal guidelines. Because the guidelines are more closely tied to family size, eligibility is far more accessible to households earning above $ 33,500.

As it stands, only about half of the 300 youths who qualified for Connecting Kids scholarships last year also qualified for the tax credit, Stratton said. If the proposed changes go through, all of them would qualify for the extra assistance.

“To mirror (the tax credit to) the free and reduced meals is more reflective of the child and their living conditions,” she said. “It’ll open the door to a lot more families.”

Connecting Kids works with Minnesota Afterschool Advance, or MAA, to help families access the tax credits. MAA works with families through the process, covering funds for programming up front.

Families would otherwise have to pay for programming up front before getting 75% of the costs back on their tax returns. When disposable income is tight, the up-front cost would be too high of a barrier for many low-income families.

Rising prices mean it’s time to expand eligibility for the tax credit, stated Matt Norris, MAA’s policy director, in a release.

“With the price of gas and groceries skyrocketing, families don’t have the resources to help their students catch up or get ahead in school,” he stated. “That’s why it’s important for lawmakers to modernize the income limit for this tax credit.”

Stratton anticipates more after-school offerings would be available to students if the tax credit expands. Currently, the Dance Conservatory of Southern Minnesota, Mankato School of Music and Mathnasium are among the academic enrichment programs families can access with the tax credit.

Now is a good time for families to inquire about scholarships and tax credits for summer and fall programs, Stratton said. Connecting Kids has links to MAA on its website at www.mankatounitedway.org/connecting-kids.

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