About a month ago I raised the specter of tuition tax credits, which sparked some interesting responses. A commenter pointed me to this Education Week piece (PDF) by Colorado’s own Kevin Welner, a piece that has several key shortcomings. First, it’s guided by the flawed assumption that people’s money belongs to the state:
The tax-credit process places decisions on public funding in the hands of only those private citizens who file itemized tax returns, rather than taking the standardized deduction. [emphasis added]
Second, Welner’s most devastating objection has been refuted. He wrote:
In Arizona, schools and students supported by neovouchers have disproportionately been found in more-affluent neighborhoods. The local “donors” have used the neovoucher system to effectively help pay for the education of their own children, an option not available to families who do not file itemized tax returns or who owe only minimal (or no) state taxes. At a time when most states are trying to close achievement gaps, Arizona’s neovoucher program appears to be disproportionately subsidizing the education of children in its wealthiest families.
Mind you, he brings forward no evidence. Meanwhile, we later learn that, at the bare minimum, 41 percent of Arizona’s tax credit beneficiaries are low-income students, the average family income of which is $35,533. Hardly subsidizing the wealthy.
Finally, his closing argument is based in a rhetorical misdirection:
What is knowable now, however, is that neovouchers move policy away from democratic control over education, and from a societal commitment to public schooling.
Did he mean democratic or Democratic? Just kidding. What is more democratic: The tyranny of the majority using the instruments of the state to tell you which form of education to pursue, or parents freely directing the education of their own children? And notice the use of the phrase “public schooling” rather than “public education”. The former phrase implies that it is good for society to be committed to the existing structure of public schools. The latter phrase indicates how much society values an educated public.
For the good of society as a whole, I will argue it is preferable to support the welfare of the individual students over the welfare of an institution.
In the end, all we are left with is a concern that we don’t know enough about how well tax credits work. This concern has some legitimacy, though we are learning more all the time. And besides, has the existing system worked so well for all students that pursuing this cost-saving line of reform along with other strategies would prove to be somehow worse?
Let’s be clear: Colorado is facing some serious budget problems. Today’s Rocky Mountain News article by Berny Morson highlights concerns about education programs that may be significantly affected. The use of tuition tax credits to help spare the budget-not to mention expand academic opportunity-ought not be overlooked. As I said before:
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.
So let’s clear away the “neovoucher” bogeyman and discuss in more depth why we can’t at least have even a modest tax credit program like those in Iowa, Pennsylvania, or Rhode Island.
Popularity: 1% [?]