Most people agree that some form of education reform is needed in South Carolina.
Unfortunately, even among staunch supporters of school choice, agreeing on the main avenue for achieving reform is elusive. Some parents demand choice through vouchers, some want tax credits, and some want both. These terms are often used interchangeably by both sides of the school choice debate, and it can throw off someone unfamiliar with the jargon.
Over the last week, the National Review has run a tremendous series by Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute on tuition tax credits.
The first installment of the series clarifies the nature of “vouchers” and “tax credits,” laying out statistics showing the greater popularity and support for school choice via tuition tax credits. Schaeffer’s second piece deals with the legal issues that sometimes confront voucher and tax credit programs in different states. According to Schaeffer, tax credit programs are not only more popular than vouchers, but also avoid the legal entanglements that plague state voucher programs.
The third article in Schaeffer’s series discusses the political impact of vouchers and tax credits. Schaeffer claims the coalition-building nature of tax credits is vital if education reformers are to overcome intense opposition from the public education establishment. “School-choice battles incite bitter resistance from one of the largest, most politically potent and well-financed set of economic interests in the nation: public-school employee unions. Even if they disagree with the general assessment of the danger that vouchers pose to private schools, school choice supporters need the most powerful coalition they can muster to pass and defend school choice legislation.”
The final segment of the series asks the question “Which of the two options for real school-choice reform is more likely to survive and expand after it’s passed: vouchers or education tax credits?” Schaeffer answers the question by pointing out that tax credits give parents and businesses a stake in the schools and organizations that receive their contributions. “The personal investment that tax credits establish means that individuals, businesses, and scholarship organizations – everyone who participates in the program – will have a strong and direct interest in defending and expanding the law.”
The point of all this?
Parents in South Carolina need real educational options, and soon.
It is crucial that any program set in place to provide these options is one that is the most effective, legal, unifying, and lasting. Schaeffer sums it all up pretty well.
“School-choice supporters need to remember that the battle doesn’t end when you win in the legislature. Education tax credits build the most powerful political constituency, and that’s what ensures that a choice program survives and grows.”