U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has added a prominent voice to backers of legislation to allow federal tax credits for donations to scholarship funds for students at private and religious schools.
“The biggest winners will be America’s forgotten children,” by empowering them to “find the right fit for their education,” she said, announcing her support for the measure Feb. 27.
It’s a position we heartily endorse.
In fact, we’ve been pushing for years for a state-level program that would give all New York families that same chance at school choice enjoyed by wealthy families everywhere.
It would also give Catholic school families relief from the burden of supporting a public school system with their tax dollars while paying tuition at the Catholic school they believe will provide a better education for their children.
The legislation supported by Secretary DeVos would allow $5 billion in credits to individuals or businesses that make donations to approved scholarship programs anywhere in the country. The scholarship programs would be run by states that choose to participate, but the credits would be applied to federal tax returns.
Individuals would be able to give up to 10 percent of their adjusted gross income, while businesses could give up to 5 percent.
Several states, including Florida and Arizona, already have their own programs of tax credits for donations to fund tuition scholarships, but the new legislation—the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act—would allow donations to other education programs as well.
Unfortunately, the history of tuition tax credit bills is not a happy one for those of us who see them as a way to ensure fairness for struggling families and promote educational equality.
Year after year, Cardinal Dolan has appealed to Albany to enact such a measure in the state budget, and has so far come away disappointed.
The cardinal and other supporters of Catholic schools are not the only ones backing tuition tax credits in New York. Other independent schools have joined the cause as well.
The metropolitan area has a broad array of non-Catholic religious schools and other independent schools, which together educate hundreds of thousands of students—some 242,000 in New York City alone, making up 19 percent of the city’s total student population.
Year after year, the public school teachers unions are the strongest opponents, making the dubious claim that scholarship funds would drain money from public schools. Sponsors of the federal legislation, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., are prepared for a fight, and will undoubtedly get one.
Still, they’ve introduced the legislation in Congress and are trying to line up bipartisan support.
They certainly have the support of Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.
He sent a letter of thanks March 20 to Cruz and Byrne for introducing the bill, saying, “The Catholic Church teaches that parents...have the right to select the best education environment for their children.”
That’s what we say, too.