Tax credits (educational IRA-type system).
Under current law, METenrollees receive a tax credit from the state. Tax law favors MET enrollees and discriminates against families and students not participating in the program. The existing system should be expanded to benefit all state residents, including middle-class families and private school students. An educational IRA system would provide an incentive for families and students to save for college. The conceptual goal of such proposals, which already have bi-partisan support in Washington, should be to increase access to higher education for middle-class children.
The primary beneficiaries of any tax credit system should be children from families earning less than the state median income, along with students from all income groups who are working to pay for the costs of college. Working students especially deserve to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication, whatever their families' income level. The state's current system discriminates against all working students, whatever their families' income level, by taxing them to pay for the education of other students.
Savings bond programs, not prepaid tuition plans like MET, have emerged as the trend at the policy level. Problems have emerged, however, with bond programs in other states. The largest group participating in Illinois' program have been persons 55 or older. "Are they buying bonds for their grandchildren," one Illinois official asked, "or is that money being rolled over into IRAs?" The same official notes that Illinois' savings bond program has not been utilized by the middle-class to the extent that officials had originally hoped.
The goal of any program should be to increase middle-class access to education without adding to the burden on taxpayers. A tax credit system would help the middle-class access without exposing taxpayers to the possibility of a government bailout.
Families considering METdeserve complete and accurate information about the program from the state. The state's recent unannounced MET price increase is an example of how not to protect consumers. Between the Oct. 2-6 application period and later that month when contracts were forwarded to applicants, the state increased MET's cost $176, an additional three percent. The increase was not announced publicly, and nearly 7,000 state residents spent $25 apiece to apply for MET, but did not enroll following the price hike. Future developments about MET should be announced publicly to protect consumers.