Friday, December 15, 2006

Letting Business Help: The Promise of Education Tax Credits

With recent election results splitting control of the national government, legislators must now confront the challenge of crafting bipartisan initiatives. There is a prime opportunity for enlisting such broad support, which has not yet been fully developed: educational choice. Most of the action in this field occurs at the state rather than the federal level, but the principle is the same. Legislation in favor of educational choice appeals to broad swaths of Democrats, Republicans, racial and ethnic minorities, and the middle class. It is popular because it cultivates rather than frustrates parental responsibility in the formation of children.

Over the last decade or so, battles over vouchers in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida have gotten most of the attention, but there are other -- possibly even more promising --programs that have quietly yet effectively changed the character of education funding. One key initiative is the corporate tax incentive. Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) is a leading example, and similar programs have been adopted in Florida, Arizona, and Rhode Island. This lineup of states demonstrates the potential for political success across a wide spectrum of partisan affiliation. Using the color coding that has become conventional, Florida and Arizona lean red, Rhode Island is solidly blue, and Pennsylvania is decidedly purple. All now have mechanisms in place to empower poor and middle class parents to send their children to schools that they believe will best serve their educational goals.

In Pennsylvania, the EITC enables businesses to contribute up to $200,000 to a scholarship organization (SO) or an educational improvement organization (EIO). For a one-time gift, the business receives 75 percent of its contribution back as a tax credit; for a two-year commitment, the company gets 90 percent. An EIO uses its funds to furnish improvements in public schools, such as technology enhancements. An SO provides scholarships to eligible students (family of four income of $70,000 or less) who wish to attend private schools.

As with voucher programs, such tax incentives obviously assist needy children by increasing their options. But programs such as EITC also enjoy at least two advantages over vouchers. First, the funding channel from corporations to mediating bodies (SO or EIO) to schools mitigates the danger of increasing government involvement in religious and other private schools. (It also diminishes the opposition of hard-line church-state separationists).

Second, instead of relying primarily on government as the source of funding, such programs actually encourage the functioning of civil society. In the case of an SO, for example, a partnership is formed among private organizations for the purpose of expanding access to quality schooling. Granted, government provides an incentive through the tax break, but there is an important difference between, on the one hand, collecting tax revenue and then distributing it, and, on the other hand, permitting private institutions to retain more of their income on the condition that they contribute toward a public good. The latter comports better with a vision of government as promoting the meeting of society’s needs, rather than as provider of such goods.

These programs have an impact. Dr. Ronald Bowes, Assistant Superintendent for Public Policy and Development in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, observes that the results for enrollment in Pittsburgh’s Catholic high schools have been “somewhat dramatic.” The 2006–2007 school year saw an increase of 3.4 percent, bucking long-term trends. The relative health of Pittsburgh Catholic schools is directly related to the EITC, he says: “Many parents have written that they would not be able to send their children to Catholic schools if it were not for the SOS fund.”

Yet what makes the EITC program widely popular is that it is not geared specifically to benefit private schools. It supplies aid to whichever educational programs and institutions parents and firms are willing to support. Across Pennsylvania, over the five-year life of the program, 1,900 companies have given in excess of $100 million to improve educational opportunities in Catholic, public, and other schools. Legislators looking for a “winning issue” would do well to pay attention. Here is a way they can do some genuine good for their constituents—and reap political benefit without earmarking pork for indoor rain forests or superfluous bridges.



Yet another example of unsafe schoolyards

After the freshman boys basketball team was attacked on campus last week by a group of young men who poured out of 10 cars, student athletes at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove must now wait inside the school's gym for buses taking them to road games. Four players and one coach were injured in the attack Thursday night, in which a large group of young men drove into the parking lot, jumped out and began yelling and beating some of the players, officials said. The attackers used a chemical spray that irritated two of the players' eyes and cut another player on the head, officials said. Police and school officials said the assault was related to an off-campus altercation that happened earlier that day.

Freshman basketball coach Michael Baker said he was waiting with his team in the parking lot at the north side of the campus about 6:20 p.m. for a bus to take them to an 8 p.m. tournament game at Mira Loma High School. As nine to 10 cars pulled into the parking lot and the occupants started charging the team, Baker directed the kids into the nearby gym. The attack began before they could all get inside. "I thought I was following the last kid into the gym," Baker said. When he realized that not all of his players were inside, he went back outside, where he saw one of his players bent over a railing and four others defending him. "If myself and the four others weren't there, who knows what could have happened," Baker said. The coach was struck twice, once in the elbow and once in the knee, by a blunt object. The assault lasted about one minute, Baker said.

The Elk Grove Police Department and paramedics responded and a police helicopter hovered overhead, searching for the attackers. The boy with the head wound declined medical treatment at the scene, but his parents later took him to a hospital, where he was treated and released, the coach said. No details about the case were available Monday night from Elk Grove police.

Law enforcement and Elk Grove school district police met with parents and players Thursday night. The team forfeited that night's game but played against El Dorado High School the next night and, following an emotional pre-game discussion, won by 30 points.

Baker said his players "feel safer" with the new policy, and their parents "are concerned, but they are supportive. No one is pulling their kids off the team." Principal Douglas Craig said that the attack is believed to be a case of mistaken identity and that the attackers were not targeting the basketball team. "Apparently, there was some incident unrelated to the basketball team earlier in the day, and the team was attacked by mistake," Craig said. "I think once they realized it was the wrong people, they said, 'Hey, we better get out of here,' and took off."

Police will beef up patrols around the school, officials said. With officers already regularly assigned to the area, parents should not be afraid for their children's safety, said Elk Grove Police Sgt. Martin Pilcher. The new pick-up and drop-off procedures are only in place at Laguna Creek High School for now, but district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said the school district will look into whether the policy should be extended to other schools. Such school policies can be set by individual principals or by district officials.

Soon after the attack, word spread that students and a coach were involved in the fracas. "People were very surprised about it," said Jessica Cooper, a Laguna Creek junior who is a cheerleader and plays first base for the softball team. Still, Cooper said, there is a feeling among students that current security policies are a bit excessive. "I guess it's OK for safety, but it's also a bit ridiculous," she said, adding that a gate already surrounds the campus. "I think it's going a bit overboard."

Her father, Elk Grove City Councilman Jim Cooper, said he is pleased the school is reacting. "Is it the best idea? I don't know," he said. "But I'd rather see them do something than sit on their hands." Cooper said violence is an issue that "stretches beyond campus" and "as a city, we need to give them whatever assistance we can."


Australian mathematics education lagging

Australia's ability to win contracts for drug research trials, logistics and other high-tech causes is at risk due to a looming shortage of mathematicians, a new report has warned. An Australian Academy of Science review released today says underinvestment in maths and statistics is jeopardising the competitiveness of Australian industry and could see Australia become a low-end provider. University of Melbourne professor Hyam Rubinstein, who chaired the review, said industry submissions to the inquiry revealed Australia was in danger of losing its competitive advantage in fields like data analysis, forecasting, finance and banking systems, IT and national security.

Prof Rubinstein said Australia's reputation as a leader in maths and statistics had drawn international experts here. "But this reputation ... is only being upheld by a handful of mathematical scientists who are now near retirement," he said. "When they are gone, our world-class reputation will likely crumble. "In universities, there are almost no permanent academic staff aged under 30 and few under 40 to continue the level or breadth of research required." Mathematics and statistics departments at Australian universities had lost a third of permanent staff since 1995 and were now producing less than half the OECD average of graduates, he said. Young researchers were discouraged from staying in teaching and research positions because of a lack of resources and because of better opportunities overseas. "The commonwealth [government] course contribution to universities is close to $5000 per student for mathematics and statistics while for most other sciences and engineering it's $12,300 per student," Prof Rubinstein said. "This is killing our departments - we can't run our programs on the available funding and Australia will be the loser.

"The real key to rebuilding our mathematical skills capability is providing permanent university teaching and research positions, so we have basic research to solve problems and teachers to teach three-year maths courses to skill primary and secondary school teachers."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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1 comment:

catholic schools said...

Some good points there. Originally catholic schools were set up for the disadvantages.