Vouchers Tax Credits in New York

Many on the left have long argued that the school voucher movement would sap money from public schools and destroy public education. Many on the right have long argued that public support for private schools is the last best hope for poor children trapped in poor schools.

From New York, news of a third possibility: public support for private schools will be a costly tax goodie for middle-class swing voters.

Gov. George E. Pataki’s proposal to give some parents a $500 tax credit that could be used to pay for private or parochial school tuition is drawing some unexpected support in the Democratic-led State Assembly….

The backing is coming from some legislators from New York City who say that they are tired of waiting for Mr. Pataki to increase aid to schools and say that they see the tax-credit plan as a way to help parents frustrated with the quality of their children’s education….

Some Democrats denounce the proposal, which has come under fierce attack from teachers unions, as a stealth voucher system that would encourage parents to remove their children from public schools. And they question why they should authorize a $400 million program that could help private schools while the governor has not spent more money on public education to comply with a court order that found that the state had shortchanged schoolchildren in New York City.

Five hundred dollars is not going to do much to help parents get their kids into private schools. According to NCES, in 1999-2000, the typical parochial school nationwide cost $3,236 (surely more in New York); the typical nonsectarian school, $10,992. So that tax break will cover six weeks of school, tops.

Nor is the $500 targeted to the parents who really need it. Although the credit is refundable, the program does not fully phase out until $90,000–far from rich in NYC, but still nearly twice the city’s median family income.

If your goal was to kill the public schools, you wouldn’t do this. If your goal was to help poor children, you wouldn’t do this. If your goal was to show that you and your party care about swing voters in the outer boroughs and upstate … now we’re talking!

-RG

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