Private school tax credits: Do they bleed public schools?

I never understood the Legislature’s timing or rationale for pushing through its private school tax credit program two years ago other than lawmakers were too afraid to embrace vouchers wholeheartedly so they took a smaller step in that direction. (Polls still show low public support for vouchers.)

Here are two points of view on this. (Both were op-eds that we published last year.)  First in favor, State Rep. David Casas of Lilburn:

That’s the beauty of the new tuition tax credit program. It is not a voucher program with strict government rules on how each organization should be governed. Instead, it allows charitable money to flow freely to these organizations that set their own bylaws and choose which families they would like to assist in seeking more choice in Georgia.

The law does not specify how long a student has to be enrolled in a public school before qualifing for a tuition tax credit scholarship — and that’s a good thing. Some children enroll in public schools and find their school, classroom, curriculum or teacher is not a good fit. This tax credit offers hope that some children, such as those in failing schools, may search for a way out as soon as they need it. There are no arbitrary rules of how long they must endure a bad situation.

With the recession, donations to the tax credit program and SSOs have been lower than first anticipated.  Couples may donate up to $2,500 annually; individuals can take a $1,000 tax credit off taxes due the state if they donate to an SSO. Corporations can reduce up to 75 percent of their taxes due the state if they make a charitable gift to one to of these scholarship organizations.

Since the program is gaining popularity, it’s possible the General Assembly will consider making it available to any student, not just those in public schools , as the economy recovers. After all, it’s really in the spirit of giving, no different than if taxpayers wanted to reduce their tax burden because they gave money to the University of Georgia or a homeless shelter.

At some point, public school administrators are going to get it. This is not about publi schools  versus private. It’s about parents and giving them the chance to find the best educational setting for their child. Parents, after all, know what’s best for their children. The tuition tax credit program is a child-centered education platform that puts power and choice back in the hands of parents.

And here on the opposite side is Tim Callahan of PAGE :

The sponsors of this legislation emotionally introduced it by expressing their concerns about the poor and underprivileged children they could “rescue” from failing public schools. If these legislators had a lengthy track record in support of poor and underprivileged families and their children it might come as news to other legislators, public agencies and social service advocates who have been about this work for many years. But that aside, what is the public benefit to create  a tax-funded program that might help one or two children in a given publi school that is not succeeding with several hundred students?

As they cut funds from all publi schools ($1.7 billion in austerity cuts at last count) do legislators actually think programs such as tuition tax credit scholarships create a net benefit? Might it not be better to legislate and fund in such a way that we come to the aid of all public school students who are struggling?

My conservative friends often quote Winston Churchill, so here’s one for them: “The American people always do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” Perhaps when our leaders have exhausted the other possibilities they’ll come back to support the schools where 1.6 million of our students spend every day

According to the AJC story today:

A two-year-old program allowing Georgians to redirect part of their state income taxes to private school scholarships is sending millions of dollars to some of the state’s most exclusive academies, and more private schools are signing up to participate.

Westminster Schools, Woodward, Pace, Paideia and other elite schools say they are adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to their financial aid coffers — more than $1 million in the case of Westminster — through the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

The program provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to people or corporations who donate to scholarship funds earmarked for use by a specific school. The school then uses the money to offer tuition aid to a public school student seeking to switch.

Some private schools that had been reluctant to join the program are joining, saying they can’t afford not to amid tough economic conditions and growing demand for financial aid. More than 300 now participate statewide.

Today’s AJC story has stirred up a lot of people, including this reader who sent me this note:

This morning, in the AJC, I read an article about the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program.  This subsidizing of private schools infuriates me. Is there some redeeming value to this program that I’m not seeing? Helping the private schools diversify doesn’t count…let them do that on their own steam!I would like to find out which legislators send their children to private schools.  Is there a way to do that?  Would it not be considered a conflict of interest if a legislator who sends his/her children to private school voted for this program?  Do you know if other states have a program like this one?  I would be interested to know which ones.

So, I am throwing out this reader’s questions to all of you on both sides of this question.  (And yes, there were legislators with kids in private schools who voted for this program.)

150 comments Add your comment

lala

October 15th, 2010
10:48 am

Westminster? Woodward? Paideia?

Poor little private schools.

I may just have to change my vote to Barnes over this issue alone.

The Aristocrat

October 15th, 2010
10:56 am

That IS good news. Now, the Aristocrat can write off his annual alumni donation.

TechMom

October 15th, 2010
11:01 am

How exactly is this money being taken away from public school funds? These are general tax dollars not tax dollars that were earmarked for education. Further, do you realize that these same private schools are educating other children whose parents still pay taxes and don’t utilize public school? Do you realize that the money that is going to these scholarships is for children who would otherwise be in public school and that the amount of the award is typically less what it costs the state to educate the kids?

EnoughAlready

October 15th, 2010
11:07 am

I will add this to the conversation: what happens to the tax credit; if and when the private school kicks a student out and he/she has to return to public school during the school year?

The public school will have to educate this child and not receive any money to do so.

Cherokee

October 15th, 2010
11:08 am

I support this program because it helps kids get an education that works for them. Some kids do great in public school, some don’t. I have a friend with a child receiving a scholarship through this program. They didn’t have the $$ to go to a school other than they were zoned for and it wasn’t working for their daughter. Why should this little girl struggle because her parents don’t have extra $$? She needed help right then and there.

Disillusioned, but hopeful

October 15th, 2010
11:10 am

I was just reading HB 1132 yesterday. What if it also included the option of attending another public school in a different school system?

There has been much debate about vouchers. Would it not be public school choice if a student could attend a better performing school outside their home district? Have the money follow the child. Of course there needs to be available slots at the school and out of zone transfers in the same district would have priority. Possible caveats would be the home school did not make AYP to allow for a transfer, similar to NCLB.

What do you think Maureen?

Richard

October 15th, 2010
11:10 am

No true conservative could possibly be in favor of redirecting tax dollars to a private school. It makes the private school answer to the government, thereby turning it into a public school.

(Just saying)

teacher&mom

October 15th, 2010
11:11 am

If we want to play fair, then we should offer the same tax credit for public school donations. Instead of writing a check to the GA Dept. of Revenue, let me take the tax credit, which will lower the amount of state income tax I pay, and give that money directly to my public school….which I kinda do every year when I have to purchase my own lab and classroom supplies…I just don’t get a tax credit for my “donation.”

The representative from my district has his two children in a small private school. Of course he supports vouchers and also voted for the tax credit. He won’t be getting my vote in Nov.

teacher&mom

October 15th, 2010
11:13 am

I also wonder how many private school scholarships go to poor students who also happen to be athletically gifted ;P

Bill

October 15th, 2010
11:15 am

EnoughAlready: Private schools like Westminster, Woodward and Paideia are selective and will not be accepting kids who are likely to be kicked out. Those kids are left in the public schools.

Wrecker

October 15th, 2010
11:22 am

A tax credit only allows people to keep money they earned. It is not a grant to the private schools. No actual funding is removed from public schools, although those funds will not be available in the general fund.

People paying for private school likely pay school taxes to their county/district, despite using the services. This simply evens the playing field. Before anyone makes any assumptions, my wife is a public school teacher and both my kids go to public schools.

Wrecker

October 15th, 2010
11:22 am

Despite “not” using the services. Sorry about the omission.

tonyb

October 15th, 2010
11:24 am

I love seeing the bitter liberals foaming at the mouth over this legislation. Once again, liberals don’t (or, more likely, CAN’T), read the actual legislation before commenting on it.

Students eligible to receive the scholarship funds MUST be enrolled in a Georgia Public School. Therefore, the public schools receive their state funding for that student even though the student does not attend the public school. That means the PUBLIC school receives funds for a student to whom they NO LONGER PROVIDE SERVICES! The PUBLIC SCHOOL gets more $$ out of this than the private school!!

Regardless of this fact, this is a tax CREDIT to the taxpayer for taxes he or she has already paid, not “Free Money from the Government”. In addition, families who choose to send their children to private schools ARE NOT ALL RICH, and do so at their own expense with the exception of this minor legislation. Remember that those families’ PROPERTY TAX dollars STILL go to pay for your child’s public education even though the tax payer receives zero benefit.

You liberals who hate this legislation are showing your true colors: REDISTRIBUTION OF OTHER PEOPLE’S WEALTH! Stop getting angry other people who are tired of paying the way for others and stop demanding to be fed from the government trough.

Grizz

October 15th, 2010
11:26 am

@TechMom “How exactly is this money being taken away from public school funds?” Tax monies that would go to the state’s general fund that funds public education are diverted to private schools before they get there. That doesn’t mean that all of those diverted funds would necessarily go toward public education, but certainly a very healthy percentage of them would. Also, there are several scholarship nonprofits set up to apportion the monies they receive to various private schools. I’m sure the people who work there don’t all donate their time, meaning they have to be paid and therefore add another layer of overhead.

Jim

October 15th, 2010
11:27 am

Ignorance can be bliss. How many ways can we count that the Georgia Public School system abuses our tax dollars, how many failures are covered up, where is the state ranked in quality of education? This program is a step in the right direction of providing choice to families that care about their children and allows me the ability to have some say in how my hard earned dollars are spent within the state.

Dr. Tim

October 15th, 2010
11:30 am

This is demogoguery, which I did not expect from you,

tonyb

October 15th, 2010
11:40 am

@Richard: “No true conservative could possibly be in favor of redirecting tax dollars to a private school. It makes the private school answer to the government, thereby turning it into a public school.

(Just saying)”

You should think before you speak. The money is not government funds being re-directed to the SCHOOL. The money is donations from private people and corporations. Those taxpayers then receive a tax credit from the state. No funds are transferred between the state government and the private school.

NOW I’M just saying…

Tom

October 15th, 2010
11:48 am

Give up $1,000 in collected income taxes per person to move a child out of the public school system and save $13,000 of taxes spent on educating every child who benefits from this program? That sounds to me like a great money saving business decision by the state.

Dr. John Trotter

October 15th, 2010
11:50 am

How many defiant and disruptive students will be recruited to attend Westminster? Hmm. It is the defiant and disruptive students (thugs) who are destroying some of the public schools. Recruiting the creme (albeit a creme of a different hue) from the top and then doing this on tax payers’ dime is hardly “charitable” work. It’s all about the money.

Teacher of Goal Scholars

October 15th, 2010
11:55 am

How quickly we are to judge. I am a teacher at an inner city private school that has been able to host dozens of new (and returning) students with the GOAL scholarship – a scholarship that allows families the means to send their children to our school (aka parents who are disastified with the public sector) Our school provides a wonderful opportunity and OPTION for parents to send their students to a school with high standards and a rigorous curriculum in inner city Augusta. We have been able to add a new class with tax payers CHOOSING to use their money in a charitable way and receive a deduction as one would with ANY OTHER CHARITABLE DONATION. Why is this extra breath and energy being directed into knocking succeeding students and schools instead of investigating WHY parents are using the opportunity to switch to private (and TAXPAYERS are believing in this change — or else why choose to give to GOAL)…there is a truth that lies within…maybe that is what everyone is so afraid of….choice.

Ga Tax Payer

October 15th, 2010
12:02 pm

I would like to encourage people to get all the facts. The funds allocated for these tax credits have not been taken from the Ga education budget. More funds will not be allocated for education under the current administration. Our state has not qualified for more funding based on low scoring. Secondly, parents who choose private education for their students pay double ( they pay for their child to be in public school and private school). They pay state education taxes ( approx 86 % of their property taxes) and their children do not even attend the school. Obviously, this leaves more money in the “pot” for public school students, teachers, and classrooms. Actually if these students moved from private to public school then the schools expenses would increase to pay for that student. We must move away from a tax and spend mentality. Similarly with education- more $$ thrown at teachers and high-end “smart boards” is not solving the fact that Ga students are almost the lowest ranked in the nation. We shouldn’t be so negative about private education. Maybe we should consider how private and even public schools should strive to become more competitive in
academic rankings. How about public schools with the best scores receive more funding. I feel like the reason that private schools cans achieve higher rankings is because they have the freedom to teach without the “red tape/ oppresive” system currently in place for ps teachers. I want all schools to succeed and encourage people to look for the good in the solution rather than the poor me mentality.

Shar

October 15th, 2010
12:10 pm

Who really wins? The individual student who is not thriving in the public school environment, that’s who. Atlanta taxpayers fund each APS student at a rate that is almost twice the state average, yet our students are cheated, lied to and betrayed by the vampires in the district office who place student achievement far below their own priorities of influence-peddling, nepotism, self-aggrandizement and outright theft. And all the while the parents and taxpayers are told that a new curriculum, pedagogy, principal or facility will finally deliver what we have paid so dearly for: A decent education for Atlanta’s students. It never happens, regardless of how much money is sucked into the system, and the individual students who are sold out never get a chance to succeed.

The public school system, certainly in APS and in far too many other districts, ends up protecting the status quo as it is in the best interest of the individual administrators at the expense of the individual students. The only way to have a chance of changing that paradigm is to take the money away. Let it follow the student. If the private schools do a better job than the public schools at educating students who have a chance of achieving, let ‘em. If the public schools want to keep those students, they should compete for them, not cry in the public forum. If the public schools develop an expertise in educating students who are not as academically oriented, that can only be am improvement over the utter inadequacy of their current approach. Maybe then those kids will have a chance to be prepared for their futures as well.

Many, if not most, private schools charge lower tuition than the average funding for an APS student. If they in turn do a better job, where is the loss, other than to the bureaucrat who was counting on his or her take? If competition forces schools, public or private, to improve or shrivel, why not use it? Just about everyone, from students to parents to taxpayers to teachers, loses under the current hideous system. Why protect it?

bullwinkle

October 15th, 2010
12:15 pm

Gee, I wanna “redirect” some of my state taxes to my particular cause, too….how come I can’t?

Can you supporters of this name one other example in which taxpayers essentially get to earmark their taxes for one particular purpose and nothing else???

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
12:21 pm

“Who really wins?”

Kids who end up going to college because they worked hard.

Here’s a better question: When can we, the taxpayers, get our millions and millions of dollars back from decades of wasted money on public education?

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
12:22 pm

“I love seeing the bitter liberals foaming at the mouth over this legislation.”

Same here, and here is some irony for those of you who hate teachers unions.

TPS teacher who watched Obama sign bill is laid off

http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101015/NEWS04/10140328

EducatingthePublic

October 15th, 2010
12:25 pm

The point isn’t private schools vs. public school. The point of the program is to allow donors, who give to non-profit scholarship organizations, to help students get the best education possible. For some kids, those from poorer families especially, they wouldn’t have any choice but to continue attending a school that is failing them. We should be more concerned with an educated public than with protect any particular form of education–private or public.

EducatingthePublic

October 15th, 2010
12:26 pm

Also, “Bullwinkle”: you can get a tax break for donations made to your pet cause as long as you are giving to a non-profit organization, which these Student Scholarship Organizations are.

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
12:28 pm

For those of you who have a higher IQ:

Obama has never ever ever ever sent his kids to public schools. Even when he was a Chicago thug he never sent his kids to public schools.

Not one Democrat in congress has ever sent their kids to public schools. But please, left wingers, tell us all how public schools are just awesome!!!!!!

YES WE CAN’T!!!!!

catlady

October 15th, 2010
12:30 pm

And those who couldn’t predict this two years ago must ride the short buses.

Like the property tax break for elders, if we couldn’t see this one coming we must have been blind. If you excuse one person from paying tax, someone else has to make it up! What I don’t understand is all the people who say, “No more freebies for those who don’t pay income taxes!” yet think it is okay if it is wrapped in the mantle of “school choice.”

tonyb

October 15th, 2010
12:34 pm

EducatingthePublic: THANK YOU!! You responded to Bullwinkle before I did!!

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in awhile. It just proves who the educated voters are and who the un-educated, emotional voters are.

Burroughston Broch

October 15th, 2010
12:37 pm

I suggest that this debate be postponed until the public schools fully demonstrate to our pleasure that their primary focus is education and not how much money they get to spend.

I am sick to death of the public schools incessantly whining about how they are underfunded when there is ample evidence that funding is NOT a major factor in student outcomes. Then, they squander money like a drunken sailor (apologies to the Navy vets) on things that don’t matter. The APS is a prime example in GA.

Teaches Where Kids on GOAL soar!!!

October 15th, 2010
12:40 pm

Wow…there are a lot of misconceptions here. Please do your homework and educate yourself before agreeing with this article. The competition is good for public schools, they are not losing money, and when it comes down to it…why would you not make your OWN choice of where you want your taxes to go? Why wouldn’t you choose giving them to a child who needs a challenge and wants to soar, but doesn’t have the money for tuition? That child could be your next President. If so, I bet he’ll/she’ll be in favor of this bill.

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
12:41 pm

“I am sick to death of the public schools incessantly whining about how they are underfunded when there is ample evidence that funding is NOT a major factor in student outcomes.”

Amen to that!

Jimbo

October 15th, 2010
12:48 pm

For a good idea of what the GOAL Program is providing for Georgia’s children, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drfxsM2sVvk

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Neil Sullivan, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: Private school tax credit bleeds public schools at worse time in our state history. Who really wins? http://bit.ly/98HWR2 [...]

Grizz

October 15th, 2010
12:49 pm

@Teaches Where: “The competition is good for public schools…”

Sorry, I don’t understand the rules of the ‘competition’. Perhaps you could assist me. Private schools, not parents, select their students; public school must take whoever shows up at the door. Private schools can boot out kids who do not perform up to their standards; public schools must do everything possible to provide them with an education, even if it means expending exhorbitant sums for special programs. If you don’t like how a private school is run, your only option is to leave; public schools have elected representatives that you can boot out of office if you don’t like their policies.

So, tell me again, where’s this competition?

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
12:51 pm

“Sorry, I don’t understand the rules of the ‘competition’.”

Your problem.

Waiting for Superman

October 15th, 2010
1:01 pm

CatLady, you say, “If you excuse one person from paying tax, someone else has to make it up”. Certainly that is an argument which must be discussed. But what you are forgetting is how much money we all pay in taxes, paying for healthcare, incarceration, re-education and other areas for every child who does not get a high quality education.

Is school choice going to fix every problem? NO! But it is one of many solutions to get where we need to be in our country; providing all children with a quality education; public, private, charter, home school, voucher, tax credit scholarship, magnet, etc.

Maureen Downey

October 15th, 2010
1:13 pm

@Disillusioned, We could start with at least letting kids within the same district have choice of whichever public school they wanted to attend. If we rewrote the state’s school funding formula so it was not so reliant on local taxes, I think we could blur attendance lines. But we have such gaps in how much some communities are willing to pay for their schools that it would be hard now to convince voters to let kids cross all lines for school.
Maureen

A Supporter

October 15th, 2010
1:16 pm

I would like for someone to tell me how I am taking away from the public school system. I still pay my school taxes. I choose to divert my general taxes to support a better educational opportunity. Stop whining about public schools not getting this and that. When are legislators going to hold the Department of Education accountable to the money that they are getting. Seems that legislators are bowing down to the education lobbyists. You will not fix a broken system by throwing money at it. Legislators need to evaluate the job that the Dept of Ed is doing with the money that they receive. GOAL is not the problem here and should not be blamed for the states overall poor school system. Look at those that are supposed to be doing the job if you want better results. Hmm….sounds like basic management to me. GOAL is a great thing we should all embrace if we desire to have kids get a better educational opportunity.

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
1:19 pm

“We could start with at least letting kids within the same district have choice of whichever public school they wanted to attend.”

So what happens when every public school is bad?

HS Public Teacher

October 15th, 2010
1:19 pm

Does this news really shock anyone?

This is the republican agenda in Georgia…. kill off public schools. Give tax credits for private education. Give vouchers for private education. Give, give, give our tax dollars to private schools. This means taking from some where and it is from the public schools.

VOTE FOR ANYONE BUT A REPUBLICAN IN GEORGIA! PLEASE!!!

HS Public Teacher

October 15th, 2010
1:20 pm

@ A Supporter -

And, you certainly cannot fix anything by taking money away from it, either!

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
1:21 pm

Maureen Downey

The one thing that left wingers don’t want to talk about is parenting. Good parenting would curb most of this garbage if they’d raise their kids instead of wanting the schools to do it for them.

Rural Education

October 15th, 2010
1:21 pm

Do these private schools have to follow all the govt. regulations that public schools do? Do they have to give the state-mandated test? Do they take all who wish to attend, including special education students? If not then I don’t see how they should be eligible for the funds. This is of course the aim of the Republican establishment, the destruction of public schools or at least the re-segregation of them. This time though is just not just a race that is the dividing line.

Cindy

October 15th, 2010
1:21 pm

Hmm. So it’s all right for us to pay the college tuition of illegal aliens but not all right for us to pay for low-income citizens to attend the likes of Westminster, Woodward or Paideia? Administered correctly, I for one would wholly support a program that uses taxpayer money to move an academically deserving child out of a failing school into a school where his or her chances of success are exponentially higher.

And I’m frankly tired of private and charter-school detractors saying that it takes money away from the school system. It does not. Well, it does, but where there is no income for a private or charter schooled child, there is also no expense. Net = 0.

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
1:23 pm

“This is the republican agenda in Georgia…. kill off public schools. ”

Right, and next you’ll tell us that Republicans will take away SS.

“VOTE FOR ANYONE BUT A REPUBLICAN IN GEORGIA! PLEASE!!!”

Interesting that you scream that since public schools are failing all over the country. I bet you wouldn’t be screaming that in Democrat controlled state where public schools are crap.

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
1:23 pm

“And, you certainly cannot fix anything by taking money away from it, either!’

Sure you can.

MartinJ

October 15th, 2010
1:23 pm

Has anyone considered that the real story here is the taxpayers right to choose? It is the right of the Georgia/U.S. taxpayer to determine or at least in part, have a say in how his or her state taxes can (and in their minds) should be allocated. In the case of H.B. 1133 individual taxpayers can actively determine how $1,000 or even $2,500 is spent rather than leave it to unknown legislators in Atlanta to decide. It is also the right of a family with school-aged children who want a private, college preparatory education, to choose the right opportunity to attend a private school, prestigious or otherwise other than their local public school. SSO’s such as the GOAL Scholarship Organization provide these families this option and private schools who participate can welcome these students with open arms should they apply, meet the academic as well as the need-based qualifications. Long time private school parents make this choice every day even though they are still required by their chosen school to pay tuition while more and more of their hard earned taxes go to the Georgia D.O.R. and Uncle Sam to pay for other kids to attend a public school.

Uh huh

October 15th, 2010
1:24 pm

“This is of course the aim of the Republican establishment, the destruction of public schools or at least the re-segregation of them.”

LOL! Yep, it sure be dem Republicans fault ain’t it!