- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2000

Who should get the credit for educational performance in the years to come, the U.S. Department of Education or parents? To the chagrin of Virginia Democrats, Republican Senate candidate George Allen thinks it ought to be parents.

Mr. Allen says that if elected, the very first piece of legislation he introduces would provide parents with up to $1,000-per-child tax credits to cover the cost of school supplies, including computers and software, and tutoring. He would limit the credit to $2,000 per family $1,000 for each of two children but any taxpayer could take advantage of it whether they educate their children in government, private or home schools. They could not use the money to cover the cost of tuition.

Surveys show that Virginia voters are delighted with the idea. Some 75 percent support the plan, and 83 percent of parents do. The Washington Post reports the plan "strikingly popular among groups Robb hopes to dominate, including Democrats, liberals, African Americans and younger voters."

To Democratic Senate candidate Charles Robb, the proposal is just too expensive. That is, it allows parents to decide how to spend their money rather than sending it off to Washington where people such as, well, Mr. Robb would spend it. He says that with the money the tax credit would "cost" the feds, up to $30 billion annually over 10 years, the government could hire more teachers, renovate schools, put more public safety officials in schools and provide laptop computers for all. In short, the government could provide the kind of quality education that it has tried and failed to deliver for decades, if only taxpayers would fork over a little more money. Faced with the prospect of sending their children to the educational equivalent of the U.S. Postal Service, parents are increasingly voting with their feet to send their children to private and even home schools.

To blunt the appeal of the Allen proposal, the nonpartisan Washington Post went to the equally nonpartisan Citizens for Tax Justice for a nonpartisan assessment of it. To exactly no one's surprise given the group's past hostility to tax cuts and its embrace of warm, fuzzy government spending plans the organization panned the Allen plan: Only the rich would really benefit; poor people typically don't pay enough in taxes to take advantage of the full tax credit, and so on. But consider that in 1998, median family income was $38,900. After such a family takes all credits available to it, The Post reports, its federal tax liability would be $1,149, too low to take the full $2,000 credit. Try telling the family that since it can't take the full credit, it shouldn't take anything less either; better to send the money to Washington.

That's what Mr. Robb is arguing. Voters aren't buying it. Mr. Allen is right to give parents credit when it comes to education. Mr. Robb should too.

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