- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

Democrats yesterday said the president's proposed education tax credit that parents could use to send their children to private schools undermines public education and would be better spent for child care or elder care.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and other Democrats said the proposal is unlikely to make it through Congress. They said it is counterproductive to the president's new education overhaul law, which is aimed at improving public schools through increased accountability.
"Why did we spend all these months trying to improve public schools and then turn around and say, 'Here's some money, go off to private schools?'" asked Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.
President Bush's 2003 budget proposes a refundable education tax credit of up to $2,500 for parents whose children are in chronically failing public schools, most of which are located in poverty-stricken areas. The money could be used for private school tuition, books and computers, among other things.
Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, said Democrats' dissatisfaction with the president's proposed 2003 budget for education programs also will "make it very hard" for the tax-credit proposal to get through Congress.
Mr. Dodd said he and other Democrats may offer an alternative to the president's proposal, that would either create a child-care tax credit or a tax credit for those who take care of elderly parents.
A letter being circulated among House Republicans by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and others says: "Low-income parents in disadvantaged communities with failing schools should have the same education choices that affluent parents have."
Mr. Boehner and others said the tax-credit proposal builds on the new education overhaul law, which would allow parents of children in chronically failing public schools to choose a better-performing public school or secure tutoring or other academic help for their children, paid for with federal education dollars.
"Anything we can to do to empower parents, so they have options, I think will improve the [education] system generally," said Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Democrats are unhappy with the president's budget proposal for education programs. Mr. Bush proposed $50.3 billion in discretionary spending for the Education Department, a 2.8 percent increase over last year.
"We have the smallest increase for education that we've had in many, many years," said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
The president's proposed budget includes increased spending for the special-education program and Title 1, the program that targets the nation's most impoverished schools. But it would freeze spending on after-school programs and teacher-quality grants to states, among other things.
Democrats say the increases are not enough for states to meet the requirements of the new education bill.
Mr. Boehner dismissed Democrats' complaints. "The president made a big commitment to our schools last year and another large commitment this year," he said.
The proposed tax credit will be a primary topic of discussion when the education committee meets next week, a Republican committee aide said.


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