Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Universal Tutition Tax Credit -- MPR Town Hall Meeting remarks

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:13 AM |  

At the MPR town hall meeting addressing Minesota's education gap I had the -- albeit brief -- opportunity to raise the issue of a Universal Tuition Tax Credit, an idea I had subbmitted to MPR‘s online “Idea Generator.” Below are the full version of my suggestion. Reaction from the MPR panel is found here.

Like most of you, I‘ve been watching the presidential debates. And I‘ve learned a few things. . . Don’t slouch . . . Don’t scowl. . . Don’t mention a “global test” . . . DO thank the hosting organization, the moderator and other participants for the opportunity to take part . . . which I now do.

But I especially want to thank “a single mom raising two kids alone.” She was concerned enough about educating her children to vote and comment on the MPR “Idea Generator.” . . . She wrote about a Universal Tuition Tax Credit -- “This would or could change my life.”

All families desire schools where their children can academically succeed. . . .The commissioner and the superintendents desire to provide such schools. . . . A Universal Tuition Tax Credit is a collaborative way to make that happen -- a way to change lives.

Conceptually, a “UNIVERSAL” Tuition Tax Credit allows parents, non-parents and businesses to claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. This creates a funding pool that provides even very low-income families access to educational opportunities that today are available only for the well-to-do.

Non-parents and business “invest” in K-12 education either by subsidizing an individual student’s tuition or by contributing to independent scholarship funds. These funds, some already established in Minnesota, provide tuition for students trapped in a system that -- the achievement gap clearly shows us -- is not meeting their needs.

Parents “invest” in K-12 education by writing a check for tuition at a school of their choice . . . which may not necessarily be academically better than their district school, but which does better address their children’s academic needs.

The state is NOT involved in that decision. The state does NOT provide a voucher for any state funds. At tax time, parents are simply refunded a portion of the taxes they would have paid to support a school system they chose not to use.

Thus, when parents do not send their kids to a district school, two things happen.

First, the public school system now has more money per student and can focus attention on fewer students. Second, because parents (except for some low-income exceptions) always pay some out-of-pocket tuition cost, overall, new money is flowing into K-12 education.

A Tuition Tax Credit is a win/win for both private and public education.

Two key points -- The Universal Tuition Tax Credit is capped at a percentage of the state’s average cost to educate a child, and the amount of the tax credit is a percentage of the total tuition actually paid by parents.

Making a Tuition Tax Credit “UNIVERSAL” not only provides all children access to additional educational opportunities, it ignites forces that enhance the general education environment.

A Universal Tuition Tax Credit strengthens traditional public schools by increasing per student funding and reducing class size.

New funds are voluntarily put in play when parents pay tuition at private schools. New money encourages private investment to create a diverse array of neighborhood schools, which provide even more opportunities for all children to attend schools tailored to their academic needs -- close to home.

Funding power in the hands of individuals protects the curriculum integrity of a child’s K-12 years from budget woes and the political whims and of an ever-changing cast at the state capitol.

A Universal Tuition Tax Credit drives educational decision-making and ACCOUNTABILITY to the level of the local school . . . It makes schools accountable to parents and students, not the state and federal governments.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, a Universal Tuition Tax Credit promotes parental involvement -- the only element all flavors of educational
philosophy agree is essential to student achievement.

Returning to the premise with which I began: Creating a system of diverse school choice provides all children -- of all ethnic backgrounds -- the opportunity to attend schools that provide their best chance for academic success. A Universal Tuition Tax Credit is a key element of such a system.

Implementing a Universal Tuition Tax Credit -- as “a single mom” noted -- can “change lives.”

Thank-you all for your attention.