Commentary

A Voucher Defeat in Utah

A small percentage of Utahans went to the polls Tuesday to vote overwhelmingly against the country’s first universal voucher program. The result says less about the program itself than about the difficulty of winning an off-year referendum in the face of an avalanche of national union cash, mobilized public-school employees and a risk-averse public.

The voucher program is dead, but school choice doesn’t have to be. Tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations can help support school choice for lower-income families, and personal-use credits can help middle-class families. Tax credits reduce the amount a taxpayer owes the government for each dollar he spends on education. For instance, if a business owes the state $4,000 and donates $2,000 to a scholarship-granting organization, it would pay just $2,000 in taxes. Similar benefits for donations can be applied to individuals.

Three states have modest forms of personal-use tax credits: Illinois allows families to claim credits worth 25% of their educational expenses up to $2,500. Iowa allows 25% up to $1,000, and Minnesota allows 75% of non-tuition expenses up to a maximum credit of $1,000 per child. Five states — Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island — have more powerful donation credits. Pennsylvania allows a 90% credit for donations and Florida allows a 100% credit, helping thousands of children from lower-income families attend good, independent schools.

Education tax credits are less controversial than vouchers, so they provide a way forward in places where it would otherwise be difficult to pass school-choice programs. B