AN ALTERNATIVE TO PROMOTE EDUCATIONAL CHOICE
Reclaiming Our Schools:
Increasing Parental Control of Education
through the Universal Education Credit
Demand for alternatives to state-run schools has swelled over the past decade, as
witnessed by rising poll numbers favoring increased choice and by the creation of new
charter schools, voucher programs, education tax credits, home-schools, and private
scholarship funds. Despite mounting demand, however, such alternatives reach
relatively few students. Charters and vouchers, for instance, serve only 2 percent of
school children nationwide.
Government policy, for the most part, continues to impede the expansion of
independent schools. Most families who seek independent education must pay tuition
for an independent school while simultaneously paying taxes for state schools they do
not use. The universal education credit is one way to ease the financial discrimination
against families seeking independent educations for their children.
Like traditional education tax credits, the universal education credit lets parents
deduct a portion of schooling costs from their state tax bill. Unlike traditional credits,
however, the universal education credit has been uniquely designed to assist families
with limited or no tax liability. Under this plan, any parent, individual taxpayer, or
business would receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax liability for money spent on
tuition. The credit can be taken for up to one-half of the per pupil expenditure in the
public school system, and taxpayers may take the credit for more than one child as
long as the combination of credits does not exceed their tax liability. A large company,
for example, could pay $1,000 tuition for each of 1,000 students and receive a $1
million tax credit provided the credit did not exceed the company's tax liability.
Why would an individual or business pay for a child's education? Given the choice of
paying taxes for general services or directing some of those taxes to scholarships,
many people will prefer to assist students. That has been the case in Arizona, where
a new tax credit has raised roughly $14 million for scholarships.
Among other benefits, the universal education credit can (1) give parents more
control over their children's educations by empowering the parents to select and pay
for their children's schools; (2) reduce the financial penalty borne by parents seeking
independent schools for their children; (3) generate competition among schools,
spurring improvements in both independent and government schools; and (4) raise
scholarship funds for students in need.
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