This session, the Utah State Legislature will be considering a bill to provide tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.

Plan proponents have argued that parents who take their children out of public schools reduce the burden on the already overcrowded public school system and that tuition tax credits will help minimize the effects of future growth. If many parents took advantage of the tuition tax credit, they argue, the need for teachers would not be as great, fewer administrators would need to be hired and perhaps fewer new public schools would need to be built.

However, there are more compelling arguments for opposing this measure:

1. Public education will not benefit. The state Legislature's own legislative analyst says so.

If money is drawn from the Uniform School Fund to pay for a tax credit, less money will be available to divvy out to the various school districts. For example, even if private school enrollment nearly doubles as a result of this legislation, at least one-half of the money then will go to families who already have opted out of the public school system. The districts will be forced to carry on existing programs for students with less money to do so.

2. The real beneficiaries will be a handful of upper middle class families. Private school tuition typically is out of the reach of most middle class and working class families. They cannot afford the $5,000-$10,000 price tag of accredited private schools. Hence, a $2,000 tax credit is not going to make much difference to them. However, an upper middle class family, most likely already sending their child to a private school, will get a sizable tax cut. If tax cuts are going to be handed out, are these the people who most need them?

3. Meanwhile, the victims of this legislation will be the vast majority of students still in the public school system. They will remain in a system that will be operating on a tighter budget because the money going to tax credits will be taken directly out of the state's public education budget. This is the same system where per-pupil spending already is the lowest in the nation, class sizes are among the highest, classroom supply budgets are almost nil, textbooks are shared among students, and teacher turnover is dangerously high because salaries and workload are among the worst in the nation.

4. A tuition tax credit, like any tax break for certain types of people, is essentially a subsidy. Under this legislation, the taxpayers of the state will subsidize families who send their children to private schools by paying them $2,000 each. We already do subsidize certain people in a variety of ways. We provide tax breaks to homeowners or those who donate to charities. But these subsidies either help a majority of families or they assist those in need. Private school enrollment typically does not fall in either of these categories.

5. Despite what bill proponents say, parents already have a choice to enroll their children in a private school. The difference, however, is the taxpayers of our state currently do not have to subsidize that individual choice. My personal experience serves as example. I have enrolled my children in both public and private schools in Utah. That was my choice. Nobody else had to pay for my choice, and nobody should. Although it would benefit me personally for this bill to pass, I do not believe the taxpayers of Utah should subsidize my or anyone else's personal decision to support a private school.

In an period of economic weakness in Utah and severe budget-cutting for public education, it makes no sense to cut that budget even further by taking money away from the 95 percent of Utah schoolchildren who attend public schools and give it to the 2 percent to 3 percent who attend private schools. The solution should be more funding for public education, not less. That way the vast majority of Utah schoolchildren would benefit, not just a few.


Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University.