Tag: education tax credits

Gov. Bob McDonnell Needs to Lead on the Budget and Education

Gov. McDonnell just signed a bill that will give a tax credit to the film industry. They will shell out up to $2.5 million to movie-makers in the first year and up to $5 million thereafter. Proponents say it might save money. Unfortunately, the evidence from other states suggests it will lose money.

At a time of economic turmoil and budget problems, the Governor wants to lose money by giving a tax credit to the film industry. It’s even refundable, which in normal-talk means the state will send a check to a film executive even if he doesn’t owe any taxes; that’s a straight BAILOUT, not a tax credit. The last thing Virginia needs is another corporate bailout.

What is wrong with our Commonwealth? And what in the world is Governor McDonnell thinking?

There is one tax credit that has consistently proven to save money and increase achievement in public schools: education tax credits.

Florida recently expanded its successful education tax credit program to $140 million with the support of 42 percent of Democrats and almost every Republican. The program was found by the government to save $1.49 for every dollar invested in the credits. And the official academic researcher for the program just found that it significantly increases public school performance.

Strangely, education tax credits are not on the Governor’s agenda. Why?

Why is a Governor who had the good sense to appoint a true education reformer, Gerard Robinson, as the Secretary of Education not out front leading the movement for effective, efficient investment in education?

Look to Pennsylvania, to Georgia, Iowa, Rhode Island, Illinois, Arizona, any of the nine states supporting twelve education tax credit programs to see the new, bipartisan wave of education reform. A toothless Virginia charter school law will do nothing to improve education or save money. And the constitution won’t allow a strong charter law.

We need to save money, not waste it on another corporate bailout. We need to increase achievement.

We need leadership, Governor. We need education tax credits in Virginia. Now.

School Vouchers vs. Tax Credits

NRO editor Robert VerBruggen has weighed in a couple of times this week on the relative merits of school vouchers and education tax credits, raising interesting and important issues.

In response to my earlier post today about an education tax credit case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, VerBruggen writes:

If the Supreme Court buys this logic — which I suppose is sound on its face — it could lead to some very interesting programs. Any time it’s illegal for a government to fund something directly, it could simply make a dollar-for-dollar “tax credit” program for it, allowing sympathetic taxpayers to technically “donate” — but actually just redirect the taxes they’d otherwise have to pay — to the cause.

This is actually an argument presented by critics of the program in their brief asking the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal that it… just decided to hear. The fact that this argument is fallacious is no doubt one reason that the Supreme Court decided to reject critics’ request. Here’s where it goes wrong:

Under a constitutional tax credit program such as Arizona’s, the state has no power to pressure/encourage taxpayers to do anything that the state could not do directly. Taxpayers can choose to give no money to religious charities, or to give all their money to them. The state is unable to affect their decisions in any way.

As Ilya Shapiro and I pointed out in Cato’s amicus brief in this case, this is identical to the law pertaining to federal charitable tax deductions. Religious charities get more tax deductible donations than any other kind of entity, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld their constitutionality because the decisions regarding such donations are left entirely to the unfettered choices of private citizens.

While it would be unconstitutional for a tax credit program to only allow donations to religious charities, it is perfectly consistent with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent for a tax credit program to be religiously neutral, leaving the donating decisions to private citizens.

But there’s much more to it than this. Credits are not just constitutional, they offer an important advantage over vouchers. Under voucher programs, all taxpayers must support every kind of schooling, which can be a source of social conflict in a diverse society. [Think liberals being forced to fund religious-conservative-capitalist schooling; or conservatives being forced to fund schools supporting homosexuality as natural and without any inherent moral implications]. While this doesn’t violate the U.S. constitution (see Zelman v. Simmons Harris), it’s still a less-than-ideal outcome, as was observed in all three dissents in the Zelman case.

Tax credits, as I explained in the last section of our amicus brief (p. 21), avoid this source of social conflict. Not just families but taxpayers enjoy the benefits of free choice and voluntary association. Tax credits are thus a way to ensure universal access to a free educational marketplace without putting citizens into conflict with one another on matters of conscience. For this and many other reasons, they are the best realistic policy for advancing educational freedom yet devised.

Taxpayer Choice + Parental Choice = Education Reform That’s Constitutional

Arizona grants income tax credits for contributions made to school tuition organizations (“STO”).  These STOs must these donations for scholarships that allow students to attend private schools.  This statutory scheme broadens the educational opportunities for thousands of students by enabling them to attend schools they would otherwise lack the means to attend. 

The Ninth Circuit held that the tax credit program violated the Establishment Clause because many of the STOs – as it happens, a decreasing majority – provide scholarships for students to attend parochial schools.  Counsel for the defendants, including the Institute for Justice, asked the Supreme Court to review the case – and indeed to summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit, based in part on a 2002 case (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) rejecting a similar challenge to a school voucher program.  Cato filed a brief, joined by the Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children, supporting this request. 

Our brief argues that the funds received by STOs are the product of individual taxpayers’ “genuine and independent choice” – the touchstone by which the Court judges the religious neutrality of statutes allowing for taxpayer money to fund religious education.  Moreover, the tax credit scheme is indistinguishable from similar charitable tax deduction programs that the Court has previously held to pass constitutional muster.  While the Ninth Circuit reasoned that Arizona parents feel pressured to send their kids to parochial schools due to limited scholarships available for secular schools, it failed to consider that the share of STO money available to secular schools was nearly twice as large as the share of families choosing to send their children to secular schools. 

Far from being an impediment to parental freedom, the autonomy Arizona grants to taxpayers and STOs is ultimately essential to it.  More generally, should the lower court’s opinion be allowed to stand, the progress made to broaden the educational opportunities of students across the country will be stifled. 

The name of the case is Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn.  The Court will likely decide before it breaks for the summer whether to take it up – and, indeed, whether to summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit.

Charters No Substitute for Private Innovation

I wrote about this private school in South Carolina last year. The Voice for School Choice has a new video highlighting the great work of the Eagle Military Academy, which works with many kids the public schools cannot or will not educate.

There’s a lot of talk lately about the transformative power of some charter schools, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that many secular and religious private schools have been saving kids all along with no public funds and little or no recognition from the elite opinion class.

We need to open up choice to these schools as well, not just public charter schools that cannot provide the breadth and depth of experiences offered by private schools.

Public charter schools are no substitute for full school choice through education tax credits.

Education Tax Credits the Choice for Independents in Virginia

My last post focused on the general results of a school choice poll in Virginia. Contra conventional wisdom, education tax credits are significantly more popular and less opposed than are charter schools.

Even more interesting is the stability of support for donation tax credits across party identification. A stunning 64 percent of Democrats support credits, with only 21 percent opposed. Independents support credits 65 percent to 22 percent.

Charters are supposed to be the poster child for policies targeting Independent voters. And yet charters draw 59 percent of support from independents and 23 percent opposition.

That’s a swing from a 43 percent margin of support for credits to a 36 percent margin for charters. And vouchers run even further behind with a 22 percent margin of support from Independent voters.

Smart politicians looking for cost-saving and effective education reform would do well to take note of these numbers.

More to come …

What’s the Most Popular Choice Reform in Virginia?

Pop Quiz: What’s the best education policy a moderate politician in Virginia can pursue?

  1. Vouchers
  2. Charter Schools
  3. Education Tax Credits

Conventional wisdom says go with charter schools, because they are a bipartisan, moderate compromise reform that will get you the largest number of Independents and the least opposition. Vouchers are too hot to touch. And what’s an education tax credit … oh, right, they’re too controversial as well

Conventional wisdom is WRONG.

The Friedman Foundation has released another in their invaluable series of state education polls, this time for once-purple Virginia. Their findings are consistent with other polls, and the pattern is worth highlighting.

Charter schools draw 59 percent in support and 26 percent in opposition. Vouchers find 57 percent in support and 35 percent in opposition. Personal-use credits get the support of 59 percent and are opposed by 32 percent.

Donation tax credits are supported by 65 percent of voters and opposed by 23 percent.

Charters, vouchers, and personal-use credits, in other words, are equally popular, with credits and vouchers drawing a bit more fire.  And donation credits are wildly popular with only a rump of opposition.

History Fun Fact: Ayn Rand Liked Ed Tax Credits

Many thanks to Lisa Snell at Reason for bringing this interesting historical fun fact from 1973 to light: Ayn Rand was a fan of education tax credits:

In the face of such evidence, one would expect the government’s performance in the field of education to be questioned, at the least, [but] the growing failures of the educational establishment are followed by the appropriation of larger and larger sums. There is, however, a practical alternative: tax credits for education.

The essentials of the idea (in my version) are as follows: an individual citizen would be given tax credits for the money he spends on education, whether his own education, his children’s, or any person’s he wants to put through a bona fide school of his own choice (including primary, secondary, and higher education).

Rand’s support for credits is interesting for a number of reasons, not least the fact that she explicitly endorses credits, not vouchers. I’ve had numerous and largely fruitless arguments over which policy is most “free-market” or least distorting. To me it is obvious that credits are the most “free-market” education reform. Now I can skip the arguments and yell, “Ayn Rand!”

Rand’s essay also highlights the fact that education tax credits were, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the most prominent private school policy on the scene. Federal tax credits were a live issue under Nixon and Carter. Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party gave strong and explicit support for education tax credits throughout the 1980’s – with tax credits, but not vouchers, mentioned specifically in the Republican Party platforms of 1980, 1984, and 1988.

The largely forgotten history of education tax credits … interesting …