Expanded tax credit would help more children access after-school programs | Local News

MANKATO — A proposed extension to a state tax credit would help more children in the Mankato area access after-school programs.

The Minnesota K-12 tax credit is designed to cover 75% of educational program costs outside of tuition. The maximum family amount is $1,000 per child, which could be used to purchase books, tutors, musical instruments, and other extracurricular activities.

The credit is phasing out for taxpayers earning more than $33,500, however, a threshold unchanged since lawmakers enacted the credit in 1997. Raising it, as proposed by the Minnesota House and Senate to varying degrees, would steer helping more families who otherwise struggle to afford program costs.

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

“I feel great about it,” she said. “We have a lot of outreach, and really with COVID, there’s been a lot of thinking about the value of after-school activities for kids and families.”

Connecting Kids, a United Way program in the Greater Mankato area, offers its own scholarships for families, with eligibility tied to federal guidelines on free and reduced school meals. Since the guidelines are more closely tied to family size, eligibility is much more accessible to households earning more than $33,500.

As it stands, only about half of the 300 young people who qualified for Connecting Kids scholarships last year were also eligible for the tax credit, Stratton said. If the proposed changes are adopted, everyone would be eligible for the additional assistance.

“Mirroring (the tax credit) free and reduced meals is more reflective of the child and their living conditions,” she said. “It will open the door to many more families.”

Connecting Kids works with Minnesota Afterschool Advance, or MAA, to help families access tax credits. MAA works with families throughout the process, covering funds for programming in advance.

Otherwise, families would have to prepay for the programs before recovering 75% of the costs on their tax returns. When disposable income is tight, the upfront cost would be too high a barrier for many low-income families.

Rising prices mean it’s time to expand tax credit eligibility, MAA policy director Matt Norris said in a statement.

“With skyrocketing gas and grocery prices, families don’t have the resources to help their students catch up or progress in school,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for lawmakers to modernize the income cap for this tax credit.”

Stratton predicts that more extracurricular offerings will be available to students if the tax credit increases. 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 learn about scholarships and tax credits for summer and fall programs, Stratton said. Connecting Kids provides links to MAA on its website at www.mankatounitedway.org/connecting-kids.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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