Momentum shifts toward education tax credits

Credits replace vouchers as preferred vehicle for school choice

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After Michigan and California voters last year resoundingly rejected two high-profile school voucher proposals, education tax credits are supplanting vouchers as the preferred vehicle to expand educational opportunities for children across the country.

In recent years, 12 states have considered, and six have passed into law, some form of education tax credit. Arizona's program is the largest in the country, having provided more than 18,000 scholarships worth over $31 million to low-income students since 1998. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania and Florida enacted credits for businesses that want to help pay tuition for students to attend better or safer schools.

National attention to the tax-credit idea is growing. Last year, a study from the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute, co-authored by Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy Director of Education Policy Matthew Brouillette, explained the benefits of expanding school choice through education credits.

In May, U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., introduced federal legislation modeled after the Arizona program and a tax credit plan designed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in 1997. Hoekstra's legislation was crafted to provide individuals and corporations with a 75-percent tax credit on money given to private or public schools. Individuals could donate as much as $500 and corporations up to $100,000.

In addition, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a bipartisan association of state legislators, adopted in August a tax credit resolution to encourage state governments to draft tax credit legislation.

And recently, two gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia won their party's nominations running on platforms that include education tax credits.

Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Earley spent his years in the state Senate and his candidacy for attorney general supporting school vouchers, even authoring a bill in 1994 that would have provided vouchers to students in local schools districts. But Earley recently came out in support of tax credits as an alternative to vouchers, telling the Washington Post that tax credits can provide school choice options to parents and children without opening the door to increased state regulation and intrusion.

New Jersey's Bret Schundler, the first Republican mayor of Jersey City in 75 years, recently won his party's nomination for the upcoming gubernatorial race. In a city where only 6 percent of registered voters are Republican, Schundler has won re-election three times running on a platform of lower taxes and school choice. He advocates for more charter schools and education tax credits.

Schundler recently asked in the Wall Street Journal, "Tell me how keeping poor kids trapped in schools that consistently won't reform helps society?"

In Michigan, state tax credits for K-12 educational purposes are expressly prohibited by the Michigan Constitution. This could only be changed through a statewide referendum or initiative.