BY ANDY BRACK
If you ever thought the folks at the State House take voters to be April fools, just delve into a newly passed House bill that seeks tax credits for parents who have kids in private school.
The House of Representatives has passed a so-called “school choice” bill that supporters claim gives parents more choice in education. Over the last few years, proponents have received more than $2 million to push the legislation from New York millionaire Howard Rich.
Meanwhile, opponents say the measure is a voucher in disguise — a harmful way to siphon public money from public schools to weaken them more than they already are.
When proponents talk about “school choice,” they ignore the fact that public schools today offer more choices than ever before. Not only are there a plethora of charter schools all over the state, but there are magnet schools and programs, vocational tracks, Montessori-style instruction, online schools, arts-based schools and more.
To suggest that public schools don’t offer choices to parents is outright wrong. But more importantly, the logic behind this move for more “school choice,” is fundamentally flawed.
Consider how the newly passed House bill would allow tax deductions for parents’ income in three categories:
• Up to $4,000 for parents who send their child to private school
• Up to $2,000 for parents who home-school their child
• Up to $1,000 for parents who send their kids to a school in a district that is not their own school district of residence
Now think about that. The measure is elitist on its face. Why? Because you need at least $4,000 in taxable income to take advantage of the tax deduction. But guess what? About half of South Carolinians make so little income — or have enough tax breaks already — that they pay absolutely no South Carolina income tax.
Let me run that by you again. Of the 2 million income tax returns filed in 2009, some 889,889 returns (43.7 percent) had absolutely zero tax liability. If you add another 131,592 returns where filers’ tax liabilities were $100 or less, then just over half — 50.15 percent — of filers paid $100 or less in S.C. income tax, according to the most recent numbers from the state Department of Revenue.
So do you really think people who don’t earn enough money to pay income taxes in South Carolina are going to benefit from a $4,000 tax deduction or have enough money to send their kids to private school? Heck no. But the legislature wants you to believe it is looking out for low-income people and trying to give them real choices.
Hogwash. This Republican-backed measure isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. It’s nothing more than a way to help rich backers who want public money to help pay for private schools.
Jon Butzon of the Charleston Education Network said the House bill will harm public education.
“It’s only going to benefit a few, and anybody who gets anything can already attend a private school,” he said. “The bigger issue is the General Assembly has a constitutional responsibility to every child of the state of South Carolina and it’s not meeting its responsibility.”
That responsibility, he said, is to fully fund public education, as required by the state Education Finance Act. For the coming year, the House passed a $6.5 billion budget that underfunded public education by $700 million, or $1,002 per student.
So while legislators plan to abrogate their responsibility to pay for public education as required by the law — particularly laughable in a year when the state has a $900 million surplus — they are also trying to sell the education moonshine of the need for tax deductions for people with kids in private school.
“They’ll sit up there and point the finger, but the Constitution says they’re responsible for every child,” Butzon noted. “This bill lets them off the hook to sell the smoke and mirrors that voters deserve a choice. Where is that in the Constitution?”
This House bill is a fraud that takes us all as April fools. Let’s hope the state Senate doesn’t fall for this illogical, vituperative political malarkey.
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report. Learn more about Judge Waring at watieswaring.org
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