In a political move to pass immigration reform in New York, the Governor linked private school tax credit scholarships to Dream Act bills. The trade off would make undocumented students eligible for college scholarships in exchange for tax credit scholarships for poor and wealthy families.
The Catholic church and other religious groups actively supported the bills, according to the article in Capital magazine. Enrollment in their religious schools has been falling. The money could go other places as well e.g. school improvement organizations, local education funds, and private school scholarships. In order to garner support, half of the money would go to public schools.
Opponents argued that the bills:
- violated separation and church laws.
- benefited the wealthy rather than the poor. The tax credit scholarships included both low income and middle income families (up to $300,000 in family income). Individuals and corporations could receive at least a 75% income tax credit for up to a million dollar donation.
- removed needed funding for public schools.
- lacked adequate transparency and oversight. There is no provision for public disclosure of who donates or where they money goes.
The tax credit scholarships would cover close to one-half of the tuition for most Catholic and Jewish yeshiva elementary schools. High school tuition is higher. Thus, most low-income families would not be able to make up the difference. Given that the money designated for public schools could go to any school, which schools benefit is also an issue. Instead of reducing the funding gap among schools, it could increase it.
The political maneuvering is ongoing both in New York and in other states.
In Florida, the maneuvering is in the courts. Vouchers funded by the state legislature were declared unconstitutional in the 2006 Bush vs. Holmes decision. The legislature responded by creating tax credit scholarships that allow corporations to donate money to support private school scholarships. In this way, the money does not come directly from the legislature. In 2011, the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of tax credit scholarships in a case against Arizona.
The Florida Education Association and others filed two lawsuits in 2014. Standing on the first case, Faase vs. Scott was disallowed. The second lawsuit, McCall vs. Scott, awaits a decision by the Tallahassee Circuit judge on the legal standing of the case. The plaintiffs’ arguments for legal standing were filed on January 30, 2015. They state that the distinction between vouchers and tax credit scholarships is ‘immaterial’ …”it (legislature) may not do that by indirect action which it is prohibited from doing by direct action.”
In all of the discussion, little attention is given to improving our public school system. The discussion is about which groups get the money. Dividing our resources may mean that no one has enough to do anything worthwhile, especially for those who need it the most.