Today, The Hill published an op-ed by CSF President Darla M. Romfo titled, “Tax-credit scholarships: America’s chance for a 50-state education win.”
We rightfully talk a great deal about income inequality in this country, as well as the need to improve education, particularly among low-income children. Bridging the income gap starts with providing a solid education. The president and Congress have a unique opportunity to help kids currently struggling in a school that isn’t meeting their needs by supporting a 50-state federal education scholarship tax credit.
Better yet, it wouldn’t take any funds away from traditional public schools. Rather, the scholarships would all be funded with private dollars.
It is time that leaders in Washington put parents and their children at the forefront of every education policy consideration. An education tax credit is a good first-step that can actually do something immediately for the children who need it most, allowing them a chance to enjoy learning, reach their full potential, and thrive in adulthood.
One size does not fit all when it comes to how a child learns, and a growing number of parents are searching for better options. Many move to a different school district or choose a private school option, but too many others can’t afford to move their families for one of their children.
The promise of future reform doesn’t mean much to the parents of a first-grader who has time sensitive learning needs but can’t afford supplemental programs to help her and is trapped in a school where she isn’t succeeding.
Children who haven’t learned to read by the third grade have a much higher chance of dropping out of school, and those that are voting with their feet by dropping out of school are more likely to be unemployed, live in poverty, and engage in criminal behavior.
There is a better way.
Passing a federal law that allows individuals and corporations to donate to K-12 scholarship programs would grant parents in all 50 states the flexibility to access the best K-12 option for their child. While a tax credit doesn’t solve every challenge in contemporary education, it’s one part of the solution that has immediate results and not just for parents that can afford that flexibility.
Tax credit scholarships empower parents to choose the right school for their child, and it is a concept that has been proven effective for nearly two decades. Presently, there are 21 state-level tax-credit scholarship programs successfully operating in 17 states. Those programs serve approximately 250,000 students annually, primarily from low-income and minority neighborhoods where students are often left in schools that don’t work for them.
Florida and Pennsylvania are the largest programs and have been on the books since the early 2000s. These programs are wildly popular with families.
In Florida, for example, nearly 100,000 students benefit from tax credit scholarships. Their average household income is just under $25,000 and nearly 70 percent of students come from either black or Hispanic households. More than 58.3 percent live in a single parent home.
Students who struggled academically in their public school are now bridging the gap in reading and math in these alternative schools, performing on par with those from higher income brackets. These students were granted the opportunity to have their needs met.
At least seven different independent analyses of Florida’s tax credit scholarship have found that it saves tax money that can be used to enhance traditional public schools.
In New York City, where scholarships are awarded through the Children’s Scholarship Fund, 95 percent of students who benefit from scholarships graduate from high school on time. They enroll in college at a rate much higher than students from similar socio-economic backgrounds and have also proven to be less likely to drop out of college.
More options, better fit, greater flexibility, paid for with private dollars — that would be a good deal for our children, and the rest of us too.