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Tax Credits Can Teach Big Lessons
By Sol Stern
Democrats want us to believe that were it not for the meanspirited obstruction of upstate Republicans, New York City's poor and minority kids would be getting the education resources they need to succeed academically. Then why aren't Democratic lawmakers in Albany lining up to support upstate Republican Assemblyman John Faso's education tax credit legislation?
If this innovative bill passed, several hundred million dollars in additional education services would immediately be available to the city's poorest families.
The Faso bill is modeled after programs in Minnesota, Iowa and Arizona — except that it's a lot more generous.
Families with adjusted gross income of less than $40,000 would get a tax credit of $1,500 per child, up to a family maximum of $3,000, to cover educational expenses such as private school tuition, textbooks, computers, after-school tutoring and education summer camps.
Families too poor to pay any income tax would get a check in the mail for the entire amount of the credit. For families earning more than $40,000, the credit would progressively shrink until it phased out entirely at $100,000.
To appreciate the subsidy's potential boon to poor children, consider the case of a single mother earning $34,000 with two children struggling in a crummy city public school. She'd now have $3,000 to spend on her kids' education in any way she chose. Fed up with the public school, she could use the money, say, to pay most of the tuition for the results-oriented local Catholic school.
Or if she felt that her kids merely needed some extra help, she could use $1,000 to buy a computer that the children could share and still have $2,000 left for weekly professional tutoring and an SAT prep course.
The beauty of Faso's bill is its universality. It benefits all low-income kids, whether they are in private or public schools or home-schooled. The $460 million annual cost would come out of general funds, so it wouldn't take a penny away from school budgets. And it can't be attacked constitutionally in the way vouchers have come under fire. Tax credit programs in the other states have withstood all legal challenges.
The plan is clearly aimed at narrowing the gap in academic performance between poor minority children and middle-class white kids. That should make it a no-brainer for anyone believing in equal educational opportunity.
The problem for the Democrats is that the money authorized by Faso's bill bypasses the city's dysfunctional education bureaucracy and goes right into the hands of poor parents.
Transfer payments to the poor are normally part of the Democrats' agenda. In this case, however, it's poison to teachers unions that fear loss of control over education funding and jobs. Union lobbyists have made their displeasure known to key Assembly Democrats, who have obligingly bottled up the bill.
Most city Democrats represent thousands of frustrated parents whose children are stuck in failing schools and desperately need the help provided by Faso's bill. It remains to be seen how long it takes those parents to recognize the enormity of the Democrats' betrayal.
Stern is a contributing editor to City Journal. This is an adaptation of an article that appears in the upcoming issue.
©2001 New York Daily News
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