There’s no question that the problem of serious government revenue shortfalls changes the education policy debate at the State Capitol. But precisely how? And to what extent?
Representative (perhaps soon-to-be Senator) Kevin Lundberg is floating a new version of his educational property tax credit proposal. Last year he led the futile charge for HB 1081, which would have reduced a family’s property tax bill up to $1,000 in support of qualified education expenses-including private school tuition.
The difference is that 2009 may bring a new and compelling selling point to the tax credit bill: a potentially significant cost savings to government. During these challenging economic times, statehouse leaders are looking for ways to pinch pennies. Education tax credits simply offer one family-friendly way to achieve savings.
The Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer explains the value of this policy prescription:
There is a way to avoid getting slammed by huge new demands for public school spending while saving money and improving education: A broad-based, moderate-size education tax credit would help families stay in private schools and save their children from burdening taxpayers with the public schools’ (much greater) price tag. The credit would also help others make the switch to the private sector, easing the burden on taxpayers even more.
Education tax credits reduce the amount a taxpayer owes the government for each dollar he spends on his child’s education or on scholarships for children who need them. That money comes straight off a person’s tax liability, so it’s a dollar-for-dollar benefit: You can send it to the government or use it on the kind of education you want to support. Tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations help support school choice for lower-income families, while personal-use credits help middle-class families send their children to good schools.
Analysts are scheduled to release a financial forecast Friday that may not bode well for the coffers of state government. One is left to wonder whether current economic realities will move the needle at all on the school choice debate in the state legislature.
Now look, I’m no starry-eyed optimist. To rate the chances of passing Lundberg’s tax credit proposal as a longshot may be generous. But maybe not: In the legislature, desperate times call for reasonable measures. Will the new reform-friendly House Speaker grant the tax credit bill a fair debate or send it to a committee to die? Will the new Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform give cover for even a few elected members of their party to give it a chance?
Just a couple more questions for school reform observers to ponder as the 2009 legislative session draws into view. Private education tax credits and public education reform shouldn’t be an either/or choice. Colorado can walk and chew gum at the same time. And tax credits promise to leave more money available for other reforms, too.
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