- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

House Republican leaders have halted efforts to get private-school vouchers and instead plan to move an education tax-credit proposal they say will increase investment in both public and private schools and allow more parents to send their children to private schools if they choose.
A group of Republicans led by Rep. Bob Schaffer have a draft proposal, which is based on existing state tax systems in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
"This will result in a massive cash infusion to education period," said Mr. Schaffer, Colorado Republican. "It treats public schools on an equal level as private schools. It does not allocate money in any way."
Republicans made it clear that their strategy was to avoid a voucher approach, which has run into considerable opposition in the past.
"We steered far clear of vouchers," Mr. Schaffer said. "This is a change in the tax code, not the Department of Education. It bypasses government. It doesn't give government the authority to hand cash back through vouchers."
The Republicans' draft proposal would allow anyone who donates to an organization providing private- or religious-school scholarships to elementary or secondary students to receive half of the money back through a tax credit. It would apply to donations of up to $250 from an individual, $500 from a couple and $50,000 from a corporation.
The same incentives would also apply for those who donate to public schools. Public schools could use donated money however they see fit, including enrichment programs, new computers or band uniforms.
Supporters say this structure avoids criticism over the government handing money directly to parents for private-school education and allows the public to decide where to funnel more money for education.
The proposal would cost $3.5 billion over 5 years the amount already set aside in the House-passed budget as a place holder for an education tax credit.
House Democrats criticized the effort, saying the ultimate goal is the same as voucher proposals.
"They're trying to achieve by a tax credit what they could not achieve by vouchers," said Rep. Dale E. Kildee, Michigan Democrat. "They're trying to move kids from public schools to private."
Terry Holt, spokesman for Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said the education tax-credit proposal is on the House schedule for the summer session, which begins after Congress returns from Memorial Day break.
Mr. Schaffer said House leaders have suggested a Ways and Means Committee markup in June and House floor consideration in July.
"Our leadership is committed to it. The president is committed to it," said Mr. Schaffer. "We're just negotiating final details with the Ways and Means Committee."
Passage of such a proposal in the Democratic-controlled Senate is more uncertain, although Mr. Schaffer said it is possible.
"We've had discussions with folks on the Senate side, and I think they're sort of waiting to see how things progress over here," a House Republican aide said.
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, has introduced a similar proposal in the Senate.
President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget also proposed an education tax credit, which took a slightly more direct approach than the House Republicans' plan. His plan would have provided 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 or buying books and computers.


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