Tag: education tax credits

SCOTUS Issues a Super-Zelman Decision on Education Tax Credits

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued the Zelman decision for education tax credits. More than that, it’s Super-Zelman.

The findings in Zelman apply just as well to education tax credit programs, but only credit programs allow taxpayers to spend their own money on education.

As Andrew Coulson explained in detail earlier, the Court ruled that education tax credits are not government funds, and the plaintiffs therefore have no standing to bring suit in the first place. They were not harmed because none of their money was collected and then disburse by the state.

Children are rightly our primary concern, but taxpayers deserve more consideration than they often get in debates over education reform.

Education tax credit programs can expand educational choice and freedom while respecting the preferences and values of the individual taxpayers who earned that money in the first place.

Voucher programs simply cannot provide this kind of accountability to both parents and taxpayers.

Lobbyist Writes Fact & Evidence-Free Op-ed, Analyst Not Shocked At All

I recently gave testimony on the merits of an education tax credit bill that’s being considered in South Carolina. Molly Spearman, executive director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, a public school lobbying group, denounces both the bill and my testimony today in The State newspaper.

Ms. Spearman’s comments reveal either a complete disregard for the basic facts and research findings, or an ignorance of those facts, resulting in errors big and small.

On the small side, she refers to me as a “paid consultant from the Virginia-based Cato Institute” when in reality I’m a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, which is based in Washington D.C. And while I am, unsurprisingly, paid a salary by my employer, I received no compensation of any kind in return for my testimony in the South Carolina legislature.

More concerning, Ms. Spearman claims that an education tax credit program like the one proposed in SC “has no research-based support that is works.” Her review of the research on credit programs appears to have consisted of calling someone in the Florida Department of [Public] Education to ask them why they thought academic achievement in Florida has increased.

Ms. Spearman apparently missed the official government study, conducted by academic researcher David Figlio at Northwestern University, which found the credit program significantly improved the academic achievement of public school students. That’s not surprising, since it’s consistent with the seventeen other studies that find private school choice programs improve public school performance.

Ms. Spearman also dismisses the state savings expected from the program based on a shocking misunderstanding of education funding. State savings are based on the amount of the credit and the amount of state funding that changes when a student leaves public school; fixed classroom costs have nothing to do with it. The state will save about $500 per student under this program.

The school districts will save much more; about $5,500 in additional funds for every student who leaves even after subtracting fixed costs. Ms. Spearman acts as if almost no money is saved when a student leaves. Here’s a question; then why do public school demand full funding for each additional new student? It works both ways … if one fewer student saved little money, then one more would add little cost. In fact, an academic study has found that only about 20 percent of student funding in South Carolina is fixed in the short term. In the long-term, there are no fixed costs at all.

Again, this is no surprise; an official government analysis found Florida’s credit saved about $1.50 for ever dollar in credits while improving the academic achievement of public school students. Numerous studies demonstrate large actual and potential savings from private choice programs.

There are more errors in other areas, which is remarkable for a piece under 700 words, but I’ll close with Ms. Spearman’s final thought; “We are falling behind our neighbors in North Carolina and Georgia. We cannot gamble on this legislation.”

How ironic … Georgia adopted  a relatively large education tax credit program in 2008, while North Carolina is seriously considering a tax credit proposal of it’s own this year. South Carolina can’t afford not to adopt education tax credit reform.

Had Ms. Spearman done her due diligence on this education issue, or had she called me and asked, she could have avoided these embarrassing errors.

Ms. Spearman’s article is all the more concerning because she is a former schoolteacher and now leads the S.C. Association of School Administrators. South Carolina’s children and taxpayers deserve far better from their leaders in public education

Tax Cuts vs. Government Checks … NRO Conclusion and Correction

VerBruggen signs off on the tax cut/government check debate by doubling down on the core issue; he believes that there is no meaningful difference between government spending and a tax cut.  I will quote him in full: “If some libertarians want to keep insisting that there’s a meaningful difference between (A) the government spending $500 on something and (B) a person “donating” $500 to that thing and then getting a $500 break on his taxes in return, there’s nothing I can do to stop them.”

In this, he has the company of the 9th Circuit and the Progressive wing of SCOTUS.

VerBruggen has also rightly asked for a correction to one of the numerous quotes I pulled from his blog posts on tax cuts vs government spending. I thank him sincerely for reading through to the end of my interminable post. The correct quote is below, with the omitted, qualifying language in italics, a new note on charitable giving and government spending, and my otherwise unchanged commentary:

He insists that “much (most?) deducted charity spending does not offset government spending in the slightest,” yet also agrees that “voucherizing the tax subsidies for charity would remove the incentive to donate” to the range of charitable and social welfare activities the government supports. [Note: There is much evidence that government spending on “charity” crowds out charitable giving. And most, not to mention much, charitable giving in the U.S. is devoted to health, educational, social welfare and religious organizations which in turn focus on assistance to the poor, health and educational activities. Needless to say, the government is deeply involved in health, education and welfare spending. See the index of Arthur Brooks’ fascinating book, Who Really Cares, for more details.]

Charity does not reduce pressure on the welfare state? The billions of dollars donated to health, education, welfare … these offset nothing in the public sector? In the absence of tax expenditures for employer-provided health care, how likely is it that the U.S. would have retained a relatively robust private medical market?

The charitable deduction allows the people who earned the money our governments spend on public “charity” to keep some portion of what the government would otherwise have spent on government “charity” or some other wasteful project.

If VerBruggen is concerned that the tax burden will marginally increase on some citizen as the result of another’s charitable deduction then the answer is to balance that lost revenue with a reduction in government “charity,” not to eliminate the deduction.

Perhaps most concerning is VerBruggen’s breezy assumption that all income belongs to the government. He insists that “taxpayer money is already allocated” in the form of deductions for charity, and therefore that “voucherizing the total amount of the deductions wouldn’t change that …”

Really? Tax credits and deductions belong to the taxpayer who earned them. They are not government funds; that is a legal and logical statement. To insist otherwise is to argue that all income is the governments, and what it does not claim is ours. The money that a taxpayer spends is HIS money, not the government’s.

And, as is noted above, voucherizing charitable deductions will convert a huge portion into direct welfare payments and eliminate the core of the charitable act; giving away one’s own money.

All of Your Money Belongs to the State

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in an appeal of a 9th Circuit decision, Winn v Garriott, a challenge to one of Arizona’s education tax credit programs. It’s been getting more press than I’d expected, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today. That’s great news, because the case is far more important than just saving a program that improves education and expands educational freedom.

The 9th Circuit’s reasoning arrogates to the state all property, dissolving the distinction between public and private funds as well as public and private choices. It is a disturbing, dangerous decision.

They assert that tax cuts are the equivalent of government funds, a conclusion possible only if one assumes that all personal income belongs by default to the state rather than to the individual who earned the money. It asserts as well that when taxpayers and parents privately choose to support religious educational organizations, they are in violation of the First Amendment. This reasoning blatantly ignores the logic and plain meaning of the 2002 Zelman decision upholding school vouchers, among others.

Here is a prediction; the court will have their absurd ruling on an Arizona education tax credit program posted on the wall of judicial shame like so many others issued from their Circuit.

But I want more from the Court. This ruling is so awful that I can only pray SCOTUS rules beyond the questionable standing of the plaintiffs and comprehensively dismembers this most egregious 9th Circuit decision.

South Carolina Gov Race: What’s Haley Thinking on School Choice?

Nikki Haley promises to be a star governor if–most likely when–she’s elected this fall by South Carolina voters. Word is she’s a committed fiscal conservative, and her background is steeped in a successful family business, not large corporations, so she should have an intuitive grasp of what makes our economy grow.

And Haley has a long, solid record of supporting school choice through education tax credits in South Carolina. As recently as August 19th, Haley was reported as saying, “like Sanford, she would veto a bill to expand public education options unless it included help with private tuition. She agreed with Sanford that it must be all or nothing, saying otherwise the Legislature won’t return to the debate.”

Now that’s the stuff.

But Haley has recently put out some concerning and confusing statements on school choice. “Haley said approving private-school choice, which would provide tax credits or vouchers to pay private-school tuition, was not a priority. ‘That is not my focus; my focus is the school funding formula,’ Haley said.”

Changing the funding formula is all well and good. It might save some money. But it will NOT improve education in South Carolina. Education tax credits will improve performance and save much more than any public school reform. School choice should be Haley’s only education issue.

Why is she backing away all of a sudden? Sure, the primary is over, but Haley is leading comfortably in the polls. Education tax credits pull down serious majority support across nearly every single demographic in South Carolina. White voters, black voters, old and young, Republicans and even Democrats. This is a great issue. And backtracking on a signature issue could tarnish her fresh, reformer image.

Most important, school choice is the right policy. Haley always seemed to have a deep understanding that only an education tax credit program can substantively improve education in South Carolina.

Senator Jim DeMint has a great short video plug for school choice out … let’s hope Haley takes a look at this, remembers what reform really matters, and does the right thing in office.

Taxpayer Choice + Parental Choice = Good, Constitutional Education Reform

Arizona grants income tax credits for contributions made to school tuition organizations (“STOs”).  STOs must use 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.  Still, several taxpayers filed a lawsuit challenging the program as creating a state establishment of religion.

Although the Ninth Circuit acknowledged that increasing educational opportunities is a valid secular purpose for a legislative act, it found that the tax credit program nonetheless violates the Establishment Clause because many of the STOs—as it happens, a decreasing majority—provide scholarships for students to attend parochial schools.  Earlier this year, Cato filed a brief supporting the request for Supreme Court review filed by the various parties defending the program.  The Court granted cert.

Now Cato (led by Andrew Coulson and myself) has filed another brief, joined by four education reform groups, urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision because it was based on faulty reasoning:  It equated the private and voluntary choices of individuals who donate to religious STOs with state sponsorship of religion.  The lower court also made the dubious assertion that Arizona parents feel pressured to accept scholarships to religious schools, in spite of the fact that the share of STO scholarships available for use at secular schools is almost twice as large as the share of families actually choosing secular schools. Moreover, the tax credit scheme is indistinguishable from similar charitable tax deduction programs that the Court has previously held to pass constitutional muster.

We urge the Court to reaffirm its longstanding jurisprudence—especially the 2002 school-choice case, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris—whereby instances of “genuine and independent choice” are insulated from Establishment Clause challenge. 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 case of Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn will be heard by the Court this fall, probably in November.

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.