A “war” that leaves one side well outgunned
It’s almost become flippant for Democratic lawmakers to disparage a school voucher as “a war on public education,” as Virginia Senator Henry Marsh declared recently in opposition to a tax credit scholarship that passed the state House of Delegates Wednesday. But if it’s war Marsh sees, a look at the numbers shows the conflict is pretty one-sided.
It’s almost become flippant for Democratic lawmakers to disparage a school voucher as “a war on public education.”
Unlike many existing scholarship programs that award an attractive dollar tax credit for every dollar in contributions, Virginia would allow individuals and businesses to write off only 65 cents for every dollar they donate to a nonprofit scholarship organization. And lawmakers capped state funding for the program at a paltry $25 million a year. Even with these baby steps, it took Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling to cast a tie-breaking vote last week in an evenly divided 40-member Senate to pass the bill.
The vote was mostly along party lines, showing that Virginia Democrats learned nothing from members of their party in Florida, particularly those in the Black Caucus, who since last year have urged their brethren to look at this option differently. A similar program in Florida awards taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar credit for their donations to a scholarship organization and is currently capped at $175 million. Even at these numbers, the Florida program has still managed to hang onto the support of nearly half the Democrats in the Legislature. That’s not that surprising; the 40,000 children now on the scholarship are among the most impoverished constituents of these lawmakers.
If Marsh had looked at his legislature’s own bill analysis, he’d see how silly his hyperbole is. The fiscal note looked at Florida’s program, in particular, and found that enrollment last year only came to 2.3 percent of the eligible population in the Sunshine State. This program has been enrolling students for more than 10 years.
Consider, too, Arizona, where the legislature just doubled the maximum tax credit the state will award individuals and married couples who contribute to a scholarship organization. The program, the oldest of its kind, now benefits 25,000 students – or 2.3 percent of Arizona’s public school population. And it’s not even restricted to poor households.
The same can be said for a third: Georgia’s tax credit scholarship. Lawmakers in the Peach State didn’t means-test the scholarship, but they established a $50 million ceiling on the program. Enrollment amounts to a half-percent of the state’s K-12 public education system.
A $25 million cap in Virginia is one way to keep scholarship enrollment artificially low. Restricting tax credits to 65 cents for every dollar in contributions may assure the cap is unreachable in the first place by making it less attractive for corporations and wealthy individuals to open their wallets. So while Marsh may be pounding his chest for his base of support, talk of war only looks, at best, aloof. At worst, callous.
Category: Charters & Choice
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About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
May 16, 2013
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