Funding Private Schools—Here We Go Again

State funding of well-off private school students and homeschoolers is back on the agenda with a South Carolina House subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the latest effort to subsidize private education with public dollars.  The design of the latest proposal will only transfer public dollars to higher income parents.

This legislation, whose chief sponsor is Ways & Means Chair Brian White, allows an income tax deduction for parents who send their kids to private schools ($4,000 per child), who home school ($2,000 per child) or who send their child to another public school district ($1,000).  But those subsidies are not available to the majority of South Carolinians who, although they pay sales taxes and property taxes, have no state income tax liability.

If the real driver of this legislation  were to ensure competition and better education for poor children, you would design the program differently.  You would create vouchers and allow families to choose which school works best for their kids.  That proponents instead create tax deductions to middle and upper class families which only benefit the wealthy and provide a limited amount of scholarship money for poor kids, tells us something.  This is about providing a relatively small subsidy to families already able to send their kids to private schools or home-schooling while taking $37 million out of constrained state resources.  This is not about low-income kids.

For instance, a family of four taking the standard deduction, the tax liability is zero until they reach $29,200 in income.   Because this is a deduction, rather than a credit, a $4,000 deduction would produce, at most, a savings of $273 per child for someone in the $200,000-$500,oo0 taxable (after all deductions) income.

In a classic bit of bad drafting, these deductions are inflated by growth in population plus growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Leaving aside the appropriateness of the CPI, the growth in population has nothing to do with increasing costs to educate one child.

Having been accused for years of ignoring the needs of low-income students, proponents of public funding of private schools have in recent years established a tax credit for contributions to private scholarship organizations.  They would pay tuition (tuition, transportation and textbooks) for low-income students and “exceptional needs” students to private schools.  For low-income students, the scholarships are limited to the lesser of $5,000 or seventy-five percent of costs – that means  that private schools would still be out of reach for most students, except those at the top of eligible income.

For poor kids, the total of scholarship-funding tax credits is limited to $15 million per year.  Only a moment scanning reports for schools on the Poverty Index (using the same standards as eligibility for scholarships, essentially being below 200 % of the Federal Poverty Level) would make clear that $15 million would be a drop in the bucket if this were a meaningful program.  Opponents would note that there are no private schools—at least none that is interested in poor students of color—in districts like Marion 7, Allendale and Bamberg 2 where just shy of 100 % of students would theoretically be eligible for scholarships.  Though proponents of the fund  would suggest that someone would rush in to create those schools, it is easy to see that this will not be the case if funds  are limited.

Clearly, immense challenges face our schools and our children.  Our long-term well-being depends upon ensuring that we address those challenges. Since poverty is a clear impediment to educational progress, we should also focus on eliminating poverty.  Continuing this side discussion about subsidizing private education while we are celebrating a budget that is still short $778 per weighted student unit  of recommended adequate funding clearly means one thing — we are still not taking steps toward real change.  Instead, we are entertaining proposals that bolster those who need it the least and dragging  us further to the failures of the past.

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6 Responses to Funding Private Schools—Here We Go Again

  1. Neal Jones says:

    John,

    This is also a church-state issue in that public money will be subsidizing some private religious schools. It is not only a violation of the Constitution but of one’s conscience to promote a religion not of your choosing.

    Rev. Neal Jones

    • Lahlali says:

      Tax Liens needed by gonernmevt to pay for services, yet by selling tax liens for under housing market values, gonernmevt destroyed housing market & value of homes, caused most forclosures & bankruptcies. Those hanging on & paying property taxes now have hardly any value left to homes. In the meantime the courts are making money off forclosure & bankruptcy cases while neiborhoods are turning into slums. Just another way our gonernmevt has ruined economy.

      • Al Clarke says:

        ToddFrank ruined this
        making anyone eligible for any loan banks were forced to lend marginal and noneligible
        another example of fair share

    • Al Clarke says:

      I agree

  2. Al Clarke says:

    The design of the latest proposal will only transfer public dollars to higher income parents. This is your opinion and as such is limited in insight. Far too many low income, middle , and yes highes income families live in school districts that fail. These family tighten their belts, do without vacations, etc. and pay for a better alternative. Remember that A better alternative. Unfortunately, all of your remarks are class or income degradation oriented which I agree sells newspapers, blog for you, an entrepreneur

  3. Al Clarke says:

    not about low-income kids.
    A movement has to have a beginning. If voucher is not favorable these families who take upon themselves to improve themselves take the initiative. If the SC legislature ever decides a voucher system is a good idea, they will enact this. However, people will not nor can wait until the slow gears of legislative motors turn. You fail to appreciate people who sink more than some disposal dollars to improve the future of their children; these children are theirs and the parenst will go to a great extent to pave the way. Par for your channel of exploration you have overlooked the individual’s drive to do better—without government.

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