A Boost for Private Schools
Reagan offers tax credits
(TIME, April 26, 1982) -- Ronald Reagan could not have picked a better audience (4,200 members of the National Catholic Educational Association), or a more fitting date (April 15, the deadline for filing tax returns). His speech was chock-full of applause lines, and he hit nearly every one on cue. "I believe that working Americans are overtaxed and underappreciated." Cheers and applause. "I have come to Chicago to propose another tax bill that will allow them to keep a little more of their own money. I have come to propose a tuition tax credit for parents .." At this point, his listeners rose to their feet, roaring their support and drowning out his words. After the clamor died down, Reagan finished his sentence: "This tax credit will be for parents who bear the double burden of public and private school costs."
It was a gratifying reception for a President who has not heard a lot of applause lately.But elsewhere his paln is sure to provoke as many boos as cheers. Republican Bob Packwood of Oregon and Democrat Daniel Moynihan of New York introduced a tuition tax credit bill in the Senate in 1977, and a bitter debate has been raging ever since. Indeed, even as Reagan basked in last week's cheers, opponents of the program was mobilizing.
Under Reagan's proposal, families with adjusted gross annual incomes of $50,000 or less would be allowed to take a tax credit up to $ 100 in 1983 for each child in private elementary or secondary schools, up to $ 300 in 1984, up to $ 500 thereafter. Families earning between $ 50,000 and $ 75,000 would be eligible for partial credits. Declared Reagan: "We are offering help to the inner-city child who faces a world of drugs and crime, the child with special needs, and to families who still believe the Lord's Prayer will do them less harm in the schoolroom than good."
Opponents claim that credits would violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, since 80% of private school students are in parochial schools. They also contend that the legislation would demage the public school system by encouraging parents to put their children in private schools; an estimated 5 million students are enrolled in private schools, compared with 40 million in public schools, and that ratio has remained fairly steady over the past 15 years. Moreover, the tax credits would drain away funds needed to improve public education. Says Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers: "There is no more reason to pay for private education than there is to pay for a private swimming pool for those who do not use public facilities."
Supporters contend that the plan would benefit those who most need help. According to Gary Jones, a deputy under secretary of the Department of Education, 54% of the families sending children to private schools make less than $ 25,000 a year. Trying to blunt the church-state issue, Reagan stressed that the tax credits would go not to parochial schools but to the parents themselves. The President also emphasized that no credits would go to families that send their children to racially discriminatory schools. Fainally, he argued that strengthening private schools would force public schools to improve their programs.
Whatever the merits of the plan, supporters and opponents alike on Capitol Hill admit the proposal stands virtually no chance of being passed this year. The Administration estimates that the legislation would costa at least $ 1.4 billion annually by fiscal year 1986, and that expense gets an F from legislators, who already face gargantuan deficits. Says Republican Senator William Armstrong of Colorado: "It's a good idea, but it's bad timing. It's just not going to happen."
Reagan, nonetheless, felt he had to make good on a 1980 campaign pledge to push for tuition tax credits. More important, White House aides believe that the President needed to bolster his sagging popularity among blue-collar Roman Catholic groups, whose support helped elect him two years ago.Scores of protesters demonstrated against Reagan outside the convention center, but inside, the atmosphere resembled a campaign rally. In case anyone doubted it, Ronald Reagan showed that he was still an A student in politics.
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.