By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org
A Missouri ballot initiative to help fund public schools, special education programs and scholarships for private schools has proven popular.
The measure has collected about 80,000 signatures and could land on the ballot in November.
“We tried to make this proposal so that it would be something that would support all K through 12 education,” said Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, which is sponsoring the initiative.
If the measure passes, taxpayers could claim a 50 percent tax credit for donations made to a foundation. Half the donated money would benefit public schools, 40 percent would fund scholarships for students wanting to attend nonprofit schools, and 10 percent would help special education programs. The tax credit is capped at $90 million.
“When you’re a young parent, you tend not to have very much income and you struggle, so this is a kind of proposal that really helps young school families, makes their schooling for their children more affordable,” he said. “As for public schools, if they feel like they’re not getting enough state aid, this is a way they can go out and raise additional private money to improve the programs in the public school.”
The Missouri National Education Association opposes the measure, said DeeAnn Aull, assistant executive director for the union.
“We believe that it dilutes general revenue that would otherwise be used for public education,” she said.
The money raised by donations would “absolutely not” make up for the money the MNEA believes the school system will lose, Aull said.
James Shuls, director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, said that’s bad math.
“The argument that it would take money away from public education is just flatly false,” Shuls said.
The program allows a 50 percent tax credit, which means if someone donates $100, he or she owes $50 less in taxes. This means $50 less in the state coffers, but $100 more for public and private education.
The program is capped at $90 million – that means citizens can receive $90 million in tax credits if they donate $180 million. If the cap is reached, the state’s general revenue – not the smaller pot earmarked for education – will have $90 million less than it would have otherwise.
Half that money – $90 million – would go toward public education.
Additionally, public schools could claim part – or even all – of the 10 percent for special education, he said.
Several public school districts and private schools have nonprofit foundations that raise money, Hoey said, and the tax credit will give Missourians more incentive to donate and could inspire other communities to set up their own foundations.
“In rural Missouri … there’s a lot of community pride. They might have the logo of the high school on the water tower – we need more of that,” he said. “This program is a way of building up that local pride and local ownership of their schools.”
Because the program supports both public and private schools, it doesn’t pit them against each other – and that helps build community, too, he said.
“We need cooperation between public and private schools. We can have friendly rivalries, but these people often go to the same churches and same social occasions. We need to work more to build up our local communities,” he said.
School choice fits with the Catholic worldview, Hoey said, so it makes sense that the bishops’ public policy agency would sponsor the proposal.
“In Catholic teaching, we believe that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children, and they should have the right to choose schooling for their children that meets the needs of their children,” he said. “There’s a right to do that now, but if a person is of low income, it’s a rather hollow right, because they don’t have the financial ability to choose a different school.”
“We think that’s a fundamental right of people, and we believe government has a responsibility to provide some resources so people can exercise that right,” he said.
“We look at it as simply a back-door way to advocate for tuition tax credits or vouchers, which the Missouri public has rejected continually,” she said.
Contact Mary C. Tillotson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was updated at 11:03 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24 to add comments from James Shuls.
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