One political battle in Illinois this year was over private school tuition tax credit legislation. Last session, the legislature passed identical legislation that would give tuition tax credits for private and religious school costs, but former Republican Governor Jim Edgar vetoed the bill. This year, despite the best efforts of PFAW (People for the American Way) activists and its public education allies, the private school tax credit bill was once again approved by the Illinois legislature and Republican Governor George Ryan signed it into law.
Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinoisan, Opinions, p. 2B, August 10, 1999
[Editorial on the Opinions page]
Suit To Flip Tax Credit Is Worthy
Parents who choose to put their children in religious schools should in fact be as wary as anyone else over the tax-credit.
Good luck to the Franklin County (IL) plaintiffs who are challenging the state's highly questionable tax credit program for parents who put their children in private schools.
The suit was filed in Circuit Court in Franklin County last month on behalf of Keith Griffith, a school teacher, and Terry Williams, a parent of two children attending public schools.
Since the teacher union-backed suit was filed, a Washington-based law firm that defends school choice programs nationwide has attempted to intervene in support of the new law.
The Institute for Justice insists that there is nothing wrong with "allowing parents to keep more money to use to educate their children as they see fit."
Oh, were it only so simple.
The Illinois law, signed in June by Gov. George Ryan, gives parents a 25 percent state income tax credit for their children's tuition, books and lab fees. The credit cannot exceed $500 per family.
The problems with the law are multiple.
The practical effect of the law is to allow religious and other private schools to tap into the public treasury, thereby diminishing the amount of money available for public schools.
In addition, since most of the private schools in Illinois are religious, there is a real question about the constitutionality of the law.
And finally, such tax credit and other voucher plans are likely to further encourage fragmentation of society. Disparities in school funding already carry strong overtones of economic class, race and geographic location. Politicians already seem overwhelmed by those issues and now have added the volatile factor of religion to the mix.
Parents who choose to put their children in religious schools should in fact be as wary as anyone else over the tax-credit. Once the state intrudes into the private school's arena, it is but a small step to start requiring standards or specific curriculum in order for parents to maintain their tax credit.
The practical effects of the tax credit must not be underestimated, either. Even the sponsor of the tax credit bill acknowledges that the bill will reduce the flow of money into the state coffers. And this in a state that doesn't exactly boast of a sterling record of full and equal support of public schools to begin with.
There are ways to improve the performance of public schools. Financial abandonment isn't one of them. Education strategies stressing higher standards, more personal instruction, parental involvement and teacher accountability have helped low income students make significant academic progress.
But these strategies require more money to pay for quality teachers, smaller class sizes and other expenses. The money is less likely to be available when state funds are diverted from public education toward private and religious schools.
Parents undeniably have the right to put their child in private schools. But they shouldn't expect government help. It is, after all, their choice - and their choice alone - to make.
************************************************* * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org