PROVO — Provo's school bosses won't easily be persuaded to join a campaign against proposals that would give tax credits to parents whose children attend private school.

Members of the Provo Board of Education rejected a resolution opposing "any attempt to adopt tuition tax credits for private or religious school tuition" at its meeting Tuesday.

"I'm just not comfortable," said Board member Darryl Alder. "This (resolution) is too strong."

Wording of the resolution was suggested by the Utah School Board Association, which is urging all of the state's 40 school districts to oppose tuition tax credit proposals being considered by state legislators.

The proposed resolution says tax credits would weaken the quality of education, segregate students according to income levels and prohibit the public from knowing how tax dollars are being spent.

It is part of a lobbying effort by public-school advocates who say public schools would suffer greatly if tax money previously allocated to public schools was diverted back to parents to help them pay private-school tuition.

The Utah State Board of Education in November officially condemned "tuition tax credits, vouchers or anything similar that weakens the revenue stream available" for public schools. Several school districts, including Davis and Jordan, two of the state's largest, have taken similar stances.

"We feel a resolution from all 40 school boards in the state will carry a lot of weight on Capitol Hill in January," says a memo from the association that was sent to district superintendents and presidents of local school boards last month.

But members of the Provo board want to know more about the education-reform concept — and any drafted legislation — before jumping into the anti-tuition tax credit fray.

"We don't have a bill right now to consider," said Sheffield. "We can't say, 'What will be the impact here.' "

Rep. John Swallow, R-Sandy, unsuccessfully proposed tuition-tax credit legislation last year. But the idea — which is expected to be one of the hot-button issue in the 2002 Legislature — gained some ground in legislative circles.

Several tax-credit plans are in the works for the legislative session, said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

"We may not come up with a bill this district can support," said Bramble. But there's also a possibility lawmakers will draft legislation that pleases both public and private schools, he said.

Taking sides before legislation is drafted doesn't encourage debate, he said. "Let's look at alternatives. Let's be creative."

Supporters say tax credits will ease overcrowding in public schools and give parents a choice about where their children are educated without having to pay twice — through taxes and private-school tuition.

They also say such legislation will create an environment in which schools compete for students. The best schools will attract the most students and will receive the money.

Opponents, however, say there are still government-mandated costs to operate public schools, even if students leave for private schools. And if students leave public schools in droves, the number of teachers will have to be reduced because of a lack of funding. Classes would be consolidated, increasing class sizes.

In addition, not all poor people pay income taxes and may not be eligible for the credit. "This benefits the middle- and upper-class," said Mossi White, a Provo board member who is firm in her opposition to tax credits. "For the underprivileged, this will not benefit them whatsoever."

The Provo school board plans to study both sides of the debate on tuition tax credits this month. A public stance on the issue may be taken in January.


E-mail: jeffh@desnews.com