Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Comment on the Recent New York Times Story About Tuition Tax Credit Programs That Benefit Private Schools

I am commenting today on an article that appeared in today's New York Times on tuition tax credit programs that benefit private schools. Entitled "Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools", the article reported on tuition tax-credit programs that operate now in eight states.

I wish to make four points:

1) Poor families deserve the same opportunity to put their children in religious schools as wealthy families.  Although the laws vary from state to state, the general idea of tuition-tax-credit programs is to allow taxpayers to receive a tax credit for donations to a scholarship program that will allow low-income families to attend private schools--including religious schools.

Of course, wealthy families can afford to put their children in religious schools, but poor families cannot. I believe that a poor Catholic family should have the same opportunity to attend a Catholic school as wealth Catholic family. Therefore, I support tuition tax-credit programs.

The article reported that some of the benefiting schools (probably Protestant) teach the doctrine of creationism and fundamentalism, but so what? In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Supreme Court ruled that families have a constitutional right to put their children in private schools--including religious schools. It is no one's business whether a particular religious school promotes creationism.

2) Contrary to the message imparted in the title of today's New York Times article, tuition tax credit programs do not channel public money to private schools. The article quoted one commentator about the programs, who correctly said: "The difficulty of getting at this thing from a constitutional point of view is that there are private dollars coming from a private individual and going to a private foundation." As the Supreme Court has made clear in several rulings, programs that benefit private schools in such a way do not violate the Establishment Clause.

3) Public education organizations have vigorously opposed almost any government program that benefits K-12 private schools, but they have said nothing about the federal student aid program that has benefited for-profit colleges enormously, even though the for-profit colleges have high student-loan default rates and some of them have been accused of fraud.

Personally, I would like to see the National School Board Association, National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers leave the K-12 religious schools alone and focus some of their ire on the for-profit colleges--which have a dubious record of serving students well.

4) Finally, If anyone would like to read an even-handed discussion of the tax-credit tuition voucher programs, I recommend Kevin Welner's book entitled Neovouchers. (Mr. Welner is quoted in the New York Times article.) I do not know whether Mr. Welner is an advocate for tuition tax-credit programs, but he describes them fairly and accurately.

References

Saul, S. (2012, May 22). Public money finds back door to private schools. New York Times, p. 1.

Welner, K. (2008). Neovouchers; The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling.    Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

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