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Spring 2001
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Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice
by Sol Stern
Breaking Free.
 
  S oundings

Dems to Poor Kids: Get Lost
Sol Stern
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New York’s Democrats mean to kill an education tax credit that would help poor families.

Since Albany Democrats claim to be the party of educational equity, why aren't they lining up to support upstate Republican assemblyman John Faso's innovative education tax-credit bill? Under the assembly minority leader's bill, families with adjusted gross incomes of less than $40,000 get a tax credit of either $1,500 (if they've got one school-age kid) or $3,000 (if they've got more), which they can apply toward almost any legitimate educational service or product. Families too poor to pay any income tax would get a check in the mail for the entire credit. For families earning more than $40,000, the credit progressively shrinks, until it phases out entirely at $100,000. The credit's good for kids enrolled in public and private schools and even for home schoolers.

To appreciate the subsidy's potential boon to poor kids, consider a single mother earning $34,000, with two children in a crummy city public school. Fed up with public school, she could use her $3,000 to help send her children to Catholic school, where, a recent study by education expert Ray Damonico has conclusively shown, kids perform much better on standardized tests, despite bigger classes and much lower per-pupil spending. Or if she thinks her kids just need some extra help, she could use $1,000 to buy a computer for them and spend the other $2,000 on tutoring sessions or on an SAT prep course.

For believers in equal educational opportunity, the plan is a winner. Also in the bill's favor, critics can't attack it constitutionally, in the way voucher programs have come under fire. Similar tax-credit programs in Arizona, Iowa, and Minnesota have all withstood legal challenges.

Unfortunately, New York's assembly Democrats, especially those from New York City, oppose the bill. After all, the money it authorizes would bypass the city's dysfunctional education bureaucracy and go right into poor parents' hands—anathema to a public education establishment that fears any loss of control over education dollars. Teachers' union lobbyists have complained to key assembly Democrats, who've obligingly bottled up the bill in the Ways and Means Committee. Committee chairman Herman "Denny" Farrell, a Harlem Democrat, represents lots of frustrated parents who have kids trapped in bad public schools and who lack the resources to help them. How long will it take before those parents realize the extent of Farrell's and his fellow Democrats' betrayal of their children's interests?

 

 


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