The Public Education Tax Credit

Tax credits feasible compromise between public vs. private education factions

December 5, 2007

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It’s among the most divisive, yet fundamental, questions any democracy faces, and it has been at Ground Zero of American politics from time immemorial: How do we educate our children, who decides what we teach them, and who pays for it?

In “The Public Education Tax Credit,” Adam Schaeffer, policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, argues for a change in the terms of the education debate. Often couched as an “us versus them, public versus private, religious versus secular” dichotomy, Schaeffer’s paper moves the debate beyond the scripted soundbites and predictable pandering endemic to both sides of the issue. He offers a method of delivering on the promise of public education — a promise that has all too often been broken by the current system – through a system of educational tax credits, for both parents’ education costs for their own children and taxpayer donations to nonprofit scholarship funds. He argues that tax credits offer practical, legal and political advantages over school vouchers, which are especially important for programs targeting low-income children.

Schaeffer points to a powerful and determined education lobby, with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and argues that proponents of school choice and reform have to seize the political and rhetorical high ground.

“A tax credit system … makes public education accountable to both parents and taxpayers in a way that is impossible in a government system or voucher program,” Schaeffer asserts. “The public and politicians will understand these considerations, even if it takes time and education. Conceding the argument that accountability means accountability to bureaucrats is a recipe for continually increasing regulations and an end to the independent school system. Accountability means accountable to parents and taxpayers.”