NCPE OPPOSES THE "EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES ACT"
This bill provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for individuals and corporations that donate to “Scholarship Granting Organizations” (SGOs) that provide vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools.
This Bill Constitutes a Backdoor Voucher Scheme
- Although proponents maintain that tax credit schemes do not involve public money, there is no meaningful difference between tax credits and direct government reimbursements of private and religious schools – tuition tax credits are backdoor vouchers.
- Tax credits constitute public funding: when the government grants a tax benefit, it forgoes income. This is particularly obvious under this bill, which, unlike most existing state tax credit programs, provides taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. A dollar-for-dollar credit operates less like a tax incentive and more like a direct transfer of taxpayer funds away from the public education fund and into private hands.
This Bill Does Not Improve Opportunities for Students from Low Income Families
- Generally the families most likely to use a backdoor voucher are the ones who could already afford to send their kids to private schools, while the poorest students are left behind. A 2003 study of Arizona’s tax credit program found that it contributed to increased economic stratification in the school system because “the state’s wealthiest students [were] likely receiving the most of the tuition tax credit money.”
- Moreover, this bill does not require students to be previously enrolled in public schools in order to receive the vouchers. Therefore, there is nothing to stop students who already attend private schools from receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers. The Georgia tuition tax program suffered the same flaw and, as a result, “the available evidence strongly suggests that relatively few low income students are receiving tax-funded scholarships to attend private schools.”
This Bill Will Not Improve Academic Achievement
- There is no evidence that backdoor voucher programs improve education. Indeed, under most tax credit programs, private schools can forego state testing requirements and schools are not required to report information about their voucher students. For example, in Pennsylvania, private schools that enroll students under a state tax-credit voucher program are not required to provide information on student achievement, testing, or voucher recipient demographics, and state agencies are not allowed to request information on student achievement.
- Although this bill does require participating schools to submit student test results to the SGOs, it fails to require private schools to use the same tests as public schools. It is impossible to gauge students’ academic achievement when private school voucher students and public school students are not measured against the same standard.
- Even in well-studied voucher programs, proof of academic achievement is lacking. According to multiple studies of school voucher programs in the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools.
This Bill Would Drain Funding from Public Schools Without Reducing Education Costs
- This bill would not decrease education costs. Rather, tax money that would ordinarily be collected and spent on public schools would instead pay for vouchers, thus limiting the capacity of public schools. In Wisconsin, for example, a statewide voucher funding scheme has forced districts to raise property taxes in order to ensure adequate funding for the city’s schools. In Alabama, the state had to “put aside $40 million in its budget to absorb the anticipated loss from the tax credits.”
This Bill Lacks Accountability to Taxpayers
- Tax credit programs are especially susceptible to accountability problems. SGOs constitute an extra layer of bureaucracy – one which can shield donor and recipient information from state authorities. For example, the Society of Professional Journalists recently awarded Georgia’s tax credit program a “Black Hole Award” for the program’s failure to require students to meet certain income eligibility requirements and for its failure to require SGOs to provide reports on donor information and on how the scholarship money is actually allocated. This bill faces similar problems: there are no specifications on how the SGOs must report the amount of contributions received, the number and average value of scholarships distributed, or the number of students participating.
- Private schools are also totally unaccountable to the taxpayer. Even when accepting tuition funded through a tax credit, they do not have to adhere to any standards for curriculum, testing, teacher qualifications, or school quality.
Students Who Accept Vouchers Lose Important Rights and Protections
- Students using vouchers to attend private schools lose rights such as those in Title VI, Title IX, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Every Student Succeeds Act. And, students who attend private schools using vouchers are stripped of the First Amendment, due process, and other constitutional and statutory rights offered to them in public schools.
Backdoor Vouchers Harm Religious Liberty
- One of the most dearly held principles of religious liberty is that government should not compel any citizen to furnish funds in support of a religion with which he or she disagrees, or even a religion with which he or she does agree. Voucher programs, however, violate that central tenet: they use taxpayer money to fund religious education. Parents certainly may choose such an education for their children, but no taxpayer should be required to pay for another‘s religious education.
- They also threaten the autonomy of religious schools by opening them up to government audits, control, and interference.