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UEA spreads myths on tax credits

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The Deseret News recently reported that support for tuition tax credits was decreasing in the state. The UEA and School Board Association took credit for this success based on their extensive efforts to "educate" the public on the issue.

Unfortunately, even a cursory examination of the "education" they have provided makes it look more like propaganda than education. Let's look at their arguments and see how they stand up under minor scrutiny. I begin each "myth" with a quote from the UEA published video, "Their Education Birthright."

Myth 1 — "The danger of a tuition tax credit is that our already deficient per-pupil spending would be reduced even further." Facts: This one is simple. According to the UEA, per-pupil spending in Utah is $5,100. The current tuition-tax-credit proposal is for $2,200 per pupil. The math is pretty simple. If a student decides to go to a private school and receives a $2,200 tax credit, that leaves $2,900 to be divided among the remaining students, resulting in an increase in per-pupil funding. There is simply no other way to do the math.

In addition, a concern that millions of dollars would immediately leave the system and go toward existing private-school students is eliminated in the bill being proposed.

Myth 2 — "When one or two pupils leave a class, it doesn't save the cost of a teacher, a principal or custodian. . . . In fact, the loss of a few students . . . would only make the overall budget smaller to cover the fixed cost." Facts: The UEA acknowledges that Utah expects enrollment to grow by 100,000 students by 2010. Tuition tax credits can offset a meaningful part of this growth. Under any scenario, there will be more demand for our existing schools, teachers and administrators than our current capacity can possibly handle. Consequently, you are not talking about reducing public school enrollment but limiting the growth. This makes any argument about fixed costs very spurious.

Myth 3 — "We know that public education is the cornerstone of our democratic society and that public schools are where our diverse backgrounds come together to share the common experience which makes us Americans." Facts: First, an educated public is the cornerstone of our society, and it is critical that everyone be educated. However, it does not require a government-run monopoly system do the educating. It does mandate that society fund the education of all our children. Second, our public schools have become the most segregated institutions in our society due to the fact that they draw from very tight geographic boundaries (compare east bench public schools with Rose Park public schools). According to the State Office of Education, Utah private schools have more non-whites as a percentage of enrollments than Utah public schools.

Myth 4 — "Such tax credits would create economic segregation. . . . In fact, many taxpayers would not be entitled to any credit." Facts: The proposal in Utah is for a universal tax credit, meaning it provides mechanisms for those who pay no state income tax to receive the same value through "tax credit scholarships." Our current system is the most economically segregating system where only those who can afford to pay for private school tuition and public school taxes have choice. Tuition tax credits would open the possibility of choice to many more families.

Myth 5 — "Our society places a high value on educational as well as financial accountability. Tuition tax credits provide neither. . . . If our anticipated tax money were to go to private schools, the public would lose its right to know how these dollars are being spent." Facts: The foundation of this argument is alarming: the idea that government bureaucrats are better able to provide accountability than parents. The UEA needs to be reminded that "anticipated" tax dollars are parents' dollars and we don't need bureaucratic intermediaries to take responsibility for our educational dollars. The UEA correctly points out, "Research shows that strong parental involvement . . . raises the quality of education in our schools." Wouldn't parents be even more involved if they had the opportunity to truly exercise choice in their child's education?

Given the obvious fallacies in the UEA's and school board's primary objections, it makes one wonder if they are really concerned about protecting our public schools from tuition tax credits or defending their monopoly.

Doug Holmes is co-founder and co-chairman of Education Excellence Utah.