Tax Free Textbooks Proposed In Kansas

By John Celock

A Democratic lawmaker in Kansas is seeking to implement tax-free textbooks for college students in the state.

Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) introduced legislation Tuesday that would make Kansas the 23rd state to offer some sort of tax break for students on textbooks. Whipple’s legislation comes as lawmakers also consider legislation that would offer a sales tax holiday during back to school shopping, which would also cover textbooks.

“The tax refund on textbooks is a small step towards making college more affordable,” Whipple told The Celock Report. “It is aimed at putting money back into the pocket of students so they can pay for classes and work towards their degree.”

Whipple, the House Democratic agenda chairman, said part of the reason behind his legislation is the rising cost of college in the state. He placed blame at the feet of Gov. Sam Brownback (R), for cuts contained as part of a tax plan offered by Brownback and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2012.

Whipple said recent cuts announced by Brownback to funding for education in the state also play a role in pushing his bill. Earlier this month Brownback announced $16.2 million in cuts to state colleges as part of $44.5 million in cuts to education spending to help plug a budget hole.

“With the most recent cuts to higher education we may see the cost continue to climb higher thus making it harder for students to afford college,” Whipple said.

Whipple’s bill was introduced on the same day that public college students from around Kansas descended on the state Capitol for an annual lobby day.

Currently 22 states offer some sort of tax refund or break for college students on textbooks, according to the National Association of College Stores. Of the states offering the break Connecticut, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia offer an unconditional tax break on textbooks.

The other states on the list – Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah and West Virginia – offer the tax breaks under certain conditions. Among the conditions listed by NACS is required textbooks, only for state colleges and stores owned by the college. Louisiana offers the break in the form of two sales tax holidays that cover textbooks.

The topic of a sales tax break on college textbooks is not new. The topic was a top higher education policy issue in New York in the 1990s. In 1998, then New York Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo) successfully pushed legislation to pass the textbook tax break in the Empire State. Hoyt, now a top economic development official in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) cabinet, was active in pushing higher education issues during his legislative career. The New York proposal also received backing from then Rockland County Legislator Ryan Karben (D-Ramapo). Karben, then a Columbia University law school, went on to serve as a state assemblyman.

In Kansas, Christy Craft, an associate professor at the Kansas State University College of Education, has developed her own proposal to save money. She used a $3,000 grant from the school to develop digital modules for students in her graduate Principles of College Student Personnel Services class. The modules will take the place of textbooks in her class.

“The textbooks were too theory based and did not have enough content in practical application,” Craft said in a statement on the university’s website. “I felt very constrained by the textbooks, and this gives me much more freedom.”

Whipple, a college professor, has been pushing the legislation since he was first elected in 2013. He said that while the idea of a sales tax holiday would help students, his idea will offer a broader time period for the tax break to apply.

“The tax holiday is a good option as well,” Whipple said. “But the textbook sales tax refund would help people who attend classes that start at non traditional times.”