By Barbara Miner
"There is definitely more momentum behind tuition tax credits," notes Matt Jacob, spokesperson for People for the American Way. "They have the same effect as vouchers, but they don't scare the public as much."
Or, as Joe Overton of the ultra-conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy said in explaining why Michigan conservatives are focusing on tuition tax credits after that state's voucher referendum failed miserably in 2000: "In Michigan, the word 'voucher' is radioactive. Tax credits are much more politically viable."
Fundamentally, tuition tax credits are a way to use public policy to increase the money going to private schools and to relieve the financial burden on middle- and upper-income families with children already in private schools. "Tuition tax credits are an offshoot of the voucher concept," notes Marc Egan, director of the Voucher Strategy Center for the National School Boards Association. "They are an attempt to drain critical dollars from public schools. While vouchers are a direct drain, tuition tax credits do the same, but through the tax code."
Even privatization supporters note the inherent link between vouchers and tuition tax credits. As Andy LeFevre, head of the education task force of the ultraconservative American Legislative Exchange Council puts it, with tuition tax credits "the end goal is the same as the voucher; it's just a different way to come about it."
While the major supporters of tuition tax credits have historically been the Catholic Church and other religious institutions, the rhetoric has shifted in recent years to tax credits as a vehicle of "choice" and "marketplacebased competition." In this reincarnation, tax credits are promoted as education reform. And, taking a page from the voucher movement, supporters have found it's easier to pass tuition tax schemes if they are clothed in the mantle of helping poor kids.