December 11, 2007

It's a matter of principle

Source: NYSUT Communications

Over the last few years, some private and religious groups have waged aggressive campaigns to convince state legislators to pass ill-conceived proposals that would subsidize private school tuition with public tax dollars.

These proposals have gone by several names, including "tuition tax credits" and now "tuition tax deductions." But they all have the same basic goal – to force the state to subsidize a choice made by some New York families to send their children to private schools. These plans are little more than back-door voucher schemes, designed to give private and religious schools greater access to public money, even though those schools are largely unaccountable to the public and do not have to accept all students.

NYSUT believes strongly that public funds should be used to fund public schools that are committed to educating all New York students. Further, as public schools face new federal and state accountability mandates, now would be the wrong time to initiate a program that diverts funds better used to help public schools meet these new challenges.

The track record for tuition tax breaks in other states has been poor. Often portrayed as assistance to needy families, tuition tax breaks overwhelmingly are claimed by families whose children are already in non-public schools. For example, a 2002 Arizona State University study reported that more than 75 percent of the state's claimed tax credits went to families whose children were already enrolled in private school.

In Illinois, proponents claimed that their tax credit law would help low-income families afford private school tuition; yet, in the program's first two years, taxpayers making less than $20,000 received less than 3 percent of the credit, while families earning at least $80,000 received nearly half of the tax credit dollars. Tax deductions, credits and vouchers — whatever they're being disguised as now — all have the same effect: They provide special treatment and a public gift for private purposes.

Non-public schools are not accountable to taxpayers; are not required to serve our English language learners and students with disabilities; are not held to the same rigorous standards as public schools; do not have to hire certified teachers; and are allowed to choose who they serve. It is parents' prerogative to send their children to private schools; however, New York should not be in the business of financing personal prerogative.

The tuition tax deduction is another Trojan horse to sneak private school vouchers into New York, and it should be stopped in order to ensure the proper use of state education funds.

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