Letter to the Editor: Tax credit bad for state
Many parents and community members have questions about proposed Utah legislation called Tuition Tax Credits. In the past several bills have been presented on this subject but not have passed by the state legislature in Utah. However, with a new governor and some new legislators, increased pressure is on now to pass such a bill.
Basically a tuition tax credit gives a family the option of enrolling one or more of their children in a private school and claim a cost of the private school tuition as a direct credit against state income taxes they owe in any given year. The latest bill coming before the present legislature would create a sliding scale that gives the largest tax credit - $3,750 - to the lowest income families and the smallest credit - $500 - to the moderately high income families. Most parents who already send their children to private schools would be written out of tuition tax credits. This would be discriminatory against these families and surely ignite a court test.
Opponents of tuition tax credits believe it will drain money from public schools, while supporters say it will save public schools money by reducing the enrollment figures in public schools at a time when the state expects a massive increase in public school enrollments.
Utah currently has approximately 3 percent or 15,000 students attending private schools. The huge majority of these private schools are located on the Wasatch Front, and many are religious related schools. Private schools in the rural areas of the state are few and far between and often very small.
No other state has tried such a large and refundable credit to entice families to send their children to private schools. Much research and analysis has been done to try to determine the actual monetary effect of tuition tax credits on state public school education budgets. A study commissioned by the Utah School Boards Association by Price Waterouse-Cooper differed with the report authorized by a study group established by the last legislature.
Apparently all of the analysis hinge on the basic premise of how many parents will actually choose the private school option. Those that do face the prospect of providing their own transportation to the school for their children. Another consideration, is the tuition tax credit allowed, according to the status of the family, going to cover the actual tuition costs of the desired private school? For every child opting to enroll in a private school, the school district the child resides in loses the state weighted union provided by the state, presently almost $2100 per student. Despite these losses the school district is still faced with maintenance costs of their facilities along with several other fixed costs.
Parents of school age children should be in constant contact with their respective state legislators as the contents of the proposed tuition tax credits continues to shift to make it more acceptable to members of the legislature.
The unintended consequences of this legislation could cost the state millions of dollars and deal a blow to public education as we know it in Utah.