Based on the above set of conclusions, the school choice movement’s single most important goal should be the establishment of an optimal Universal Education Tax Credit program, and, if that proves impossible, an optimal voucher program. It is not clear whether the easiest/fastest way to do that will be to table new proposals or attempt to modify existing programs.
At the very least, we should be able to agree that eliminating the aspects of existing voucher and tax-credit programs that impede the operation of market forces is an extremely high priority. Failure to do so would not only underserve families participating in these programs, it risks allowing weak programs to taint the entire market education concept. Fortunately, sustained efforts are already being made along these lines in Cleveland and Milwaukee, and those responsible should be commended for their tireless work. Cleveland’s program has been recently expanded to some degree (which will have a salutary effect on competitive density). In Wisconsin, the government has blocked the passage of recent proposals to expand the Milwaukee program. Continuing efforts to expand and improve these programs should be encouraged.
Similarly, we should be able to agree that fighting off regulatory encroach-ment of existing voucher and tax-credit programs is crucially important. The year 2004 will see intensive campaigns to regulate, for example, the Florida donation tax-credit program, and we must rally support to protect it and other programs from counterproductive state intervention.
In parallel with the above actions, national energies should be focused on introducing and passing an optimal tax credit program in whichever state or states have the best combination of a favorable school reform climate (e.g., positive poll results and legislative interest), local activists supporting market education, and a tax-code amenable to credits (e.g., states where sales taxes don’t make up the lion’s share of the state’s receipts). States that have a positive climate for reform but are grossly ill-suited to tax-credit proposals, (due, for instance, to heavy reliance on a sales tax), may wish to consider an optimal voucher program if a tax code revision seems unachievable. In either case, the polling data cited earlier can be consulted to identify particular states in which support for market education reforms is strongest. Once one state embraces market education, others will likely follow suit.
South Carolina may well be the flag bearer behind which the school choice community can rally in 2004. In late January, 2004, Governor Mark Sanford, Rep. Doug Smith, and 30 co-sponsors in the legislature have proposed a UETC bill for their state. In its draft form, this bill comes closer to an ideal tax credit program than any other current proposal of which I am aware. South Carolina, moreover, has one of the heaviest income tax burdens in the South East, making it an ideal candidate for the implementation of a tax credit. The credit would also be applicable to property taxes, giving it even more fiscal leverage.
One thing to keep in mind as this and all other proposals enter the legislative fray is that concessions adopted for reasons of political expediency must not be allowed to undermine the essential characteristics responsible for the market’s success. Choice advocates must avoid passing legislation that gives lip service to markets without actually creating a competitive education marketplace. Doing so would be a disservice to current and future generations because it would poison the well for better designed measures to come. When true market education legislation is enacted, the social, individual, and economic benefits will prove well worth the effort.