December 2013/January 2014 - School Finance
December 17, 2013

Education Investment Tax Credit Act is just a back-door voucher plan

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United

The Education Investment Tax Credit Act (EITCA) is not what it sounds like. More money for schools? Tax breaks all around?

No.

The bill is a thinly disguised private voucher scheme that would divert hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget at a time when 70 percent of districts are below 2008-09 state funding levels and public schools are coping with the loss of tens of thousands of educators' jobs, loss of vital instructional programs and increased class sizes.

The EITCA is another one of those back-door bills surfacing in the state Legislature. NYSUT is doing everything possible to stop this plan before it allows vouchers to get "a foot in the door" in the state.

"We've seen this before. They give it a deceptive name that makes it sound like it supports education, but, in fact, this would divert resources that could be used by public schools to fund non-public schools that are in no way accountable for their public support," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.

Such proposals have been offered in many shapes and forms around the country. They are often backed by the far-right organization ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which is funded by the Koch brothers.

The intent is to use public funds to finance the costs of a non-public school education. In this case, it is disguised as charitable giving, which is misleading.

The bill's primary proponents are private and religious schools and for-profit entities, which do not have to accept students with special needs. They view tax credits - like vouchers - as an effective marketing tool that will help them bring in more tuition and pad their revenues.

Expect a wider opportunity gap

Basically, the bill (A1826 in the Assembly and S4099 in the Senate) would create a personal income tax credit or corporate franchise tax credit for donations to public and private schools. Such a proposal would widen the opportunity gap for students in poorer communities.

"It's no secret that families in less affluent communities are less likely to be able to afford to make donations to these schools," Pallotta said. "So the benefits of the tax credits will primarily be in wealthy districts, increasing the disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods."

In addition, local taxpayers would have to make up any funding shortfall as a result of the funding for tax credits. They get even less for their tax dollars.

So, this is the problem: Back-door voucher proposals would divert tax dollars and primarily benefit private and religious schools that can handpick students, can deny admission to students with special needs and are unaccountable to the public. But there's another issue, too.

Defunding public schools

The state constitution prohibits direct or indirect financial aid to schools under the control of any religious denomination or where religious tenets are taught. The state must maintain an adequately funded public school system and, at the same time, prohibit the use of public money to support parochial schools.

Pallotta said NYSUT supports the constitutionally permissible state aid non-public schools already receive.

The aid provides access to educational services for gifted students, career education and special education.

This is different, he said. "It's wrong for schools that are not accountable to the public to take funds away from public schools that are."

The scheme could begin to funnel funds to private schools; once they are invited to the state budget trough, they'll be back every year. In short, as a matter of principle, public funds should be used for public schools, not private entities.

Campaign to raise awareness

NYSUT is mounting a campaign about the deception in this proposed legislation. It includes a "thank your lawmaker" postcard mailing to voters in districts of legislators who oppose the bill. The union will provide an information item that local leaders will be able to insert into local newsletters or post on websites. NYSUT also will post a Web letter on the NYSUT Member Action Center that members can send to their legislators.

TAKE ACTION

Visit NYSUT's Member Action Center at mac.nysut.org to learn how you can send a Web letter to your legislators asking them to stand against this bill.