ACE Montana’s Tax Credit Program | ACE Scholarships

An Overview of ACE Montana’s Tax Credit Program

We need to talk about the importance of school choice. We spoke with Jake Penwell, the president of ACE Montana and Wyoming, about school choice and Montana’s state tax credit program.

Jake began his involvement with ACE about 7 years ago. At the time, he didn’t know as much about school choice as he does now.

“It’s quickly become a passion of mine. In order to help kids, you gotta be able to give them a firm foundation to build upon,” he told us. This is a sentiment that is easy to agree with.

“It’s been an incredible ride so far,” he said of his work with ACE, and he looks forward to the future.

Thousands of Montana children need your help, and the Montana Tax Credit Scholarship Program is a great opportunity to get involved.

Montana taxpayers who contribute toward K-12 scholarships through ACE Scholarships can earn a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit of up to $200,000 for their gift. Both individuals and corporations are eligible to receive the credit. While all credits have been awarded for 2022, $2 million in credit will be available in 2023.

100-percent tax credits are relatively rare—they reflect the strongest possible way for states to incentivize giving toward important programs. In this case, the Montana Scholarship Tax Credit Program allows donors to support brighter futures for children across the state while significantly lowering their state tax liability.

Enacted in 2015, Montana’s scholarship program has been tried, tested, and even upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. Until ACE-backed legislation dramatically expanded it in 2021, however, it served only a handful of students through a single scholarship-granting organization. The original program limited contributions to $150 per year, which translated to lower levels of giving, smaller scholarships (around $500), and a small number of scholarships awarded.
“At the very least it showed that there’s an interest and a passion and a need for this type of program,” Jake said.

The organization closed in 2021, and ACE took on the kids who it previously supported so they did not lose out on their scholarships.

The legislation changed when Governor Greg Gianforte came into office. He shares the same belief that it’s important to produce a firm foundation for the kids, who are our future. He decided to increase the limits and allow the program to grow on its own. The program was revamped in 2021, and 2022 has been the first year it has been able to have a larger cap.

“We took the bull by the horns and we’re showing the rest of the country how this can be done in a very successful way,” Jake said, adding that this does not impose on existing structures or the state’s budget.

We must remember that, as Jake says, “Better is possible.” Students and families deserve better opportunities, and ACE helps them be able to afford these opportunities. While Jake acknowledges that the current school system is not terrible, as he does not want to put it down, he believes it is important to point out where improvements can be made.

Students and Families Deserve the Opportunity of Choice

The biggest takeaway from this is that choice is key. Students who do well in their public schools should stay there if it is working for them. At the same time, students who are struggling in their environments should have the opportunity to make a change. When they are not able to make the change, whether it be moving to a new zip code or paying for private school, students become “stuck in a system that doesn’t work for them” and that these students often lose their excitement for learning, as they feel that they are not good at it. This then causes a snowball effect.

“It can just be to the detriment of everybody, but especially for that student,” Jake said.

Children are our future, and therefore, deserve learning environments that allow them to thrive. Parental choice is the simple answer, and it is one that really works.

ACE continues to work to help students receive the education that they deserve. Thanks to the support from our donors, we have made a difference in the lives of many students and their families, and we look forward to helping many more.