- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

House Republicans are renewing efforts to expand school choice for parents and met this week to discuss how best to move an education tax credit through Congress.
There are various education tax-credit proposals floating around, including one from President Bush, and the first step for school-choice proponents is to agree on one approach, said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Some education tax-credit proposals are aimed at helping students in impoverished schools. Others target a wider audience, while still others are aimed at increasing donations to organizations that award education scholarships, Mr. Boehner said.
After meeting Tuesday with Republican members of his committee, Mr. Boehner placed Rep. Bob Schaffer, Colorado Republican, in charge of finding a proposal that interested parties could support.
The president's fiscal 2003 budget proposed a refundable tax credit of up to $2,500 for parents whose children are in chronically failing public schools, most of which are in impoverished areas. It could be used for private-school tuition, sending children to better-performing public schools and for expenses, such as books and computers.
Democrats generally oppose an education tax credit and say it is unlikely to make it through Congress. They say it directs attention and money away from improving public schools, which was the goal of the president's education-overhaul bill, signed into law early this year.
Rep. Dale E. Kildee, Michigan Democrat and member of the education committee, said the president is "throwing something to his right-wing conservatives" by proposing the education tax credit.
The president's proposal, which would cost $3.5 billion over five years, is a good starting point, but Republicans would likely push for more money, said Mr. Schaffer. He also said they may opt to structure the tax credit differently.
Republicans are discussing giving tax credits to people who donate to private organizations that provide education scholarships for private-school tuition, tutoring or other educational needs. Such organizations exist in all 50 states, he said. Arizona and Pennsylvania already have similar mechanisms in their state tax laws.
Mr. Schaffer said members also are discussing a component to help parents pay for extra public-school costs, as well as a component to help teachers pay for continuing education. Many public-school systems allow students to select the school they attend for a fee.
"We're not trying to kill public schools," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican and education committee member. "People could go from one public school to another public school. … You can go to any grocery store or clothing store you want, but when it comes to the most important thing education you don't have a choice."
The president's original education-overhaul plan included a private-school voucher, which would have allowed parents to use their child's share of Title 1 federal education funds to pay for private-school tuition. It was taken off the table because it lacked support in Congress.
Republicans say the tax credit doesn't touch federal funds; it just allows parents to keep more of their own money to use for private-school tuition or other educational needs.
Mr. Kildee predicted it would meet the same opposition in Congress that vouchers did. He called vouchers a "front-door approach" and the tax credit a "back-door approach."
A spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says it is still seen as a voucher.


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