What Are the Issues?

Tuition Tax Credits Have the Same Effect as Vouchers Because They:

Do Not Help the Most Needy

• Proponents of the tuition tax credit argue that their proposal would enable poor families to take their children out of failing public schools and send them instead to private school. In reality, most of the assistance provided by tuition tax credits would flow to those who already send their children to private schools. An analysis by researchers at Arizona State University found that Arizona’s tuition tax credit law overwhelmingly benefited middle-class and wealthy parents, whose children in many cases already were enrolled in private schools. A Illinois’ tuition tax program has produced similar results.

• Tuition isn’t the only barrier facing low-income families seeking a private school for their children. Other barriers may include transportation costs, admission exams, religious affiliation, and additional fees for books, uniforms, and school activities. A tuition tax credit is likely to be inadequate to cover tuition costs at the best private schools, and added out-of-pocket costs put the private school option further out of reach for the neediest families.

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Erode Educational Accountability

• At a time of increased emphasis on accountability, tuition tax credit schemes funnel public money to schools that are not subject to public scrutiny. Public schools must comply with public health and safety regulations, testing requirements, civil rights laws (including non-discrimination statutes), and disclosure requirements for information such as budgets and graduation and drop-out rates. Private schools need not comply with all of these requirements. This means that there is little to no fiscal or academic accountability of how federal tax dollars are spent – allowing federal tax dollars to finance not only students’ attendance at low-performing private schools, but also discrimination.

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Unnecessarily and Unwisely Divert Attention from the Need to Fund Public Schools

• The President’s proposed fiscal year 2006 budget fails again to provide full funding for the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), thereby undermining the ability of public schools to improve, and setting marginal schools up for failure. Since NCLB was signed into law, the program has been under funded by $39 billion. Instead of providing money for tuition tax credits, the President should focus on such things as increasing funding to hire and train more teachers to reduce class size, to help disadvantaged children learn to read and do math, and to renovate aging school buildings.

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Recently Enacted Legislation Provides Accountability and School Choice

• The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 – reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – was signed into law by President Bush in January 2002. The Act provides assistance to under-performing schools and gives new choices to parents seeking to send their children to other public schools. School performance will be tracked on a yearly basis. Schools identified as needing improvement will receive funding for supplemental educational services such as tutoring and summer school. Students enrolled in schools not making “adequate yearly progress” will be provided the opportunity to attend any other public school within the jurisdiction of the local educational agency, including public charter schools. Data on the effectiveness of these programs should be collected and analyzed before we enact a tuition tax credit plan to remove children from the public education system.

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