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Bill would fund education for families experiencing intergenerational poverty

A Utah lawmaker has proposed legislation that would provide educational funding for families experiencing intergenerational poverty through income tax reimbursements. Seventy five percent of the funds must be used for children's education services.
A Utah lawmaker has proposed legislation that would provide educational funding for families experiencing intergenerational poverty through income tax reimbursements. Seventy five percent of the funds must be used for children's education services.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Households experiencing intergenerational poverty could receive funds for "qualified educational expenses" for children and their parents under a bill introduced in the Utah Senate Wednesday.

SB262, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, would allow working parents of modest means to apply for income tax reimbursements to be used for approved educational expenses in Utah's public education and higher education systems. Seventy five percent of the funds must be used for children's educational expenses.

"The kids are the primary element, but we recognize that some education and job retraining will also help the adults. We want most of the money to be focused on helping these kids to succeed in the education mainstream so we don’t lose them there and reinforce intergenerational poverty," Osmond said.

A commission of state department heads whose agencies interact with impoverished families has identified education attainment of as a top priority in breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty.

"They (children) are the ones that have more likelihood of breaking out of the cycle of poverty than their parents. The goal is to balance both but make it clear that the focus is on the kids, trying to enable them and empower them to be able to have additional educational opportunities that otherwise they couldn’t afford within our existing education system," Osmond said.

For example, the funds could be used to pay for a pre-kindergarten program, tutoring services, reading clinics, concurrent enrollment in high school or tuition and books for college classes.

"In addition, there is access to existing, approved educational technology resources like the UPSTART program (Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow), where kids can get a computer and Internet access and software for reading and math skills that will help them," he said.

Meanwhile, parents can use up to 25 percent of the funds for "qualifying higher education or job retraining expenses," Osmond said.

To qualify, households' gross family incomes must be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The Utah State Office of Education, which will administer the program, would determine whether applicants received help from public assistance programs for at least a year within the past five years among other requirements.

"It does require that the individual be working, it does require that they file a tax return. It does also enable them to receive though this tax reimbursement in the amount of $1,500 per individual but then they’ve got to take their qualifying certificate over to the (Utah State Office of Education) and they have to spend it on approved educational expenses that are both in the public education system and higher education system," Osmond said.

The funds will be paid directly to third parties that provide approved education services.

"They use it or lose it at the end of that year," Osmond said.

The cost to the state of Utah is still being determined, Osmond said. The bill's fiscal note will be available within a few days, he said.

More than 52,000 Utah children live in intergenerational poverty in Utah, according to the state's 2014 report on Intergenerational Poverty, Welfare Dependency and the Use of Public Assistance.

"We only know it’s going to be a fairly hefty fiscal note and it will be effective in the next fiscal year so not this year from a cost perspective. It will then affect the income tax that is shifted is shifted away and allocated to this program," he said.

Introducing a bill with a significant fiscal note toward the end of the legislative session poses challenges, Osmond said.

But data gleaned from the state's annual reports on intergenerational poverty and the work of the state commission and advisory committee all point to investing in educational opportunities, particularly for children, he said.

"It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got to start this conversation. I believe we would have support in committee, but the reality of the fiscal note at this time in the session without time to be able to work that through leadership, etc., it’s going to be very difficult.

"But we want to start this communication this year. My goal is, if it doesn’t pass this year, we’ll have an opportunity to really communicate what we’re trying to do and get momentum next year to get this done in a worst-case scenario."

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com