Sunday, December 21, 2008

School Tax Credit Can Help Kids and the State

New Jersey is in deep financial trouble, and government estimates keep get ting worse. The most recent budget deficit prediction tripled the last one, concluding that the state might be $1.2 billion in the hole. The bad news doesn't end there. The economic slowdown is prompting many families who can no longer afford both taxes and private school tuition to move their children into public schools. Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Camden, for instance, have lost almost 1,000 students, about 10 percent of their enrollment from last year. And those declining enrollment figures came before the worst of the recession hit.

The accelerating closure of private schools in urban areas will only add to the pressure. Public schools will suddenly need to spend more -- even as tax revenues drop. With this kind of budget problem, lawmakers need to take a look at an important benefit of programs that make it easier for families to choose private schools: School choice means huge savings for state and local governments.

New Jersey spends more than $18,500 a year on every student when you count all local school taxes and expenses like pension and health benefits. That figure doesn't even include huge sums spent on construction. A 1 percent drop in private school enrollment will put New Jersey governments on the hook for about $55 million a year; a 10 percent swing will require $550 million more in school spend ing. In contrast, the national me dian private school tuition is just over $4,000 and a little more than $5,000 when it's adjusted for New Jersey's higher income levels.

There is a way to avoid getting slammed by huge new demands for public school spending while saving money and improving education: A broad-based, moderate-size education tax credit would help families stay in private schools and save their children from burdening taxpayers with the public schools' (much greater) price tag. The credit would also help others make the switch to the private sector, easing the burden on taxpayers even more.

Education tax credits reduce the amount a taxpayer owes the government for each dollar he spends on his child's education or on scholarships for children who need them. That money comes straight off a person's tax liability, so it's a dollar-for-dollar benefit: You can send it to the government or use it on the kind of education you want to support. Tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations help support school choice for lower-income families, while personal-use credits help middle-class families send their children to good schools.

Democratic leaders in the state Senate and Assembly have proposed a donation tax credit plan for New Jersey. Businesses would get tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations that provide school choice for lower-income families. An economic study supporting the Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act concludes that this tax credit for children in eight underperforming districts would save $72 million over the length of the five-year pilot. A re cent fiscal analysis of Cato's model tax credit legislation shows that New Jersey could save $5 billion to $10 billion over 10 years with that larger program based on the savings found for New York and Illinois.

Across the nation, many Democratic lawmakers have embraced education tax credits as a way to offset the persistent educational disadvantage facing low-income children. When Florida's donation tax credit program became law seven years ago, only one Democratic legislator voted for it. This year, a third of statehouse Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus voted to expand the program. Arizona, Rhode Island and Iowa all passed education tax credit initiatives in 2006, and Pennsylvania, under Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell, expanded its program. The Arizona and Iowa bills became law under Democratic governors, and the Rhode Island business tax credit was born in a Democrat-controlled Legislature.

The momentum is still building. A government fully controlled by Democrats in Iowa -- governor and both legislative houses -- expanded the tax credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007. Just this year, Georgia passed a $50 million program with no family income cap on student eligibility. A bipartisan group of New Jersey legislators, led by Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union), supports an education tax credit bill because it will improve education and save children from failing schools. Now they have billions more reasons to support it, and so do New Jersey's overburdened taxpayers.


A Social-Work Housecleaning

Yesterday we noted the case of William Felkner, a student at Rhode Island College's School of Social work who is suing the school claiming that professors discriminated against him because he disagreed with their left-liberal political views. It turns out a similar lawsuit two years ago had impressive results. The Associated Press reported on the suit when it was filed, in November 2006:
A Missouri State University graduate has sued the school, claiming she was retaliated against because she refused to support gay adoption as part of a class project. Emily Brooker's federal lawsuit, filed on her behalf Monday by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, claims the retaliation against her Christian beliefs violated her First Amendment right to free speech. . . .

She said one of her professor's [sic], Frank G. Kauffman, accused her of the violation after he assigned a project that required the entire class to write and each sign a letter to the Missouri Legislature in support of gay adoption. Brooker said her Christian beliefs required her to refuse to sign the letter. . . .

Brooker said she was called before a college ethics committee on Dec. 16, where she was questioned for two hours by faculty members. She alleges they asked her questions such as "Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?" and "Do you think I am a sinner?" She said she was also asked if she could help gay and lesbian people in social work situations. Brooker said she was required to sign a contract with the department pledging to follow the National Association of Social Work's code of ethics, which does not refer to homosexuality. She alleges the contract requires her to change her religious beliefs to conform to social work standards to continue enrollment in the School of Social Work.

It took less than a week for Brooker to get satisfaction. In a press release dated Nov. 8, 2006, the university announced that it had agreed to strike the disciplinary action from Brooker's record, pay her $9,000, and reimburse her for tuition and living expenses for two years' graduate education.

It gets better. In addition to the terms of the settlement agreement, the press release announced that Kauffman had "voluntarily stepped down" as head of the social work program and "had begun weekly consultations" with a provost, "which will continue at least through the spring 2007 semester."

Further, the university's president, Michael Nietzel, pledged to "commission a comprehensive, professionally directed evaluation of the Missouri State Social Work Program" and "appoint an ad hoc committee to recommend ways in which the university can better publicize and more effectively implement its policies regarding freedom of speech and expression on campus." The report came out in March 2007. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education described it:
The report is scathing, citing ideological coercion on the part of the faculty against dissenting students and the chilling effect of such actions and policies on the school's intellectual atmosphere. . . .

MSU's report is encouraging-generally universities try to cover up and excuse their mistakes, and MSU has done neither. MSU should be applauded for expending the effort for some serious self-reflection and its students will no doubt benefit from the overdue recognition that MSU had been providing them with an atmosphere of ideological coercion.

Yesterday The Wall Street Journal noted that a group of state university heads are seeking a $45 billion bailout from Washington. We'd just as soon they not get it, but if they do, why not condition it on an MSU-like commitment to eradicate ideological coercion by the faculty?

Source (See the original for links)

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