Debate about tuition reimbursement for private school instruction began anew in February when President Bush released his proposed federal education budget for 2003.
The new budget includes a proposal for a "tuition tax credit program" that would reimburse 50 percent of the tuition and transportation costs for public or private education, including home schooling. Only families with students who have attended failing public schools that had not improved during a two-year period would qualify for the tax credit.
The total tax credit would be capped at $2,500.
"With tax credits valued at $3.5 billion over five years, this new program will offer families of students currently trapped in failing public schools a refundable tax credit," asserts a Department of Education statement.
The proposed program is Bush's second attempt to include some monetary reimbursement for private education in federal education legislation. He pushed for a school voucher program as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, but Congress rejected the idea.
If accepted by lawmakers, the tuition tax credit program would be administered through the Department of Treasury, not the Department of Education. In comments to the media, U.S. Rep. John Boehner, (R-Ohio), a supporter of the measure, said this would give the disadvantaged a shot at better education-something the affluent already have.
Critics characterize the tuition tax plan as a back-door voucher plan.
"We recognize the important role that private and parochial schools play in our educational system, and the right of parents to send their children to these schools, but not with funds diverted from traditional public schools," says Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. His organization represents those who work in public and private schools. "We are opposed to any form of vouchers, whether they are called education savings accounts, charitable choice or tuition tax credits."
The 2003 proposed education budget also includes funding for programs the administration is calling "expanded options for parents."
$200 million for charter schools, with money to be used for existing schools and new school development
$100 million for a new Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities program that would help with acquiring, leasing and renovating buildings
$50 million for a New Choice Demonstration Fund, to support research on parent choice options in public and private school sectors
$25 million for Voluntary Public School Choice grants to encourage states and districts to set up or expand public school choice programs.
The total $56.5 billion proposed budget, if passed, would increase federal education spending by 2.8 percent above 2002. U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (DMass.), who worked closely with Bush to pass No Child Left Behind, complained that the total is not high enough to continue education reform. Bush has stated that his overall budget priorities for 2003 will be military programs, domestic security and education.
Other Budget Breakdowns
$11.4 billion for Title I grants to local education agencies, a 9.7 percent increase from last year
$2.85 billion for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants
$8.5 billion for special education grants to states, a 13 percent increase from this year's total
$2.6 billion for vocational rehabilitation state grants, an increase of 5.4 percent from this year's budget total
$1 billion for Reading First, a program initiated with the 2002 budget to improve reading instruction for K-3 students, a 11 percent increase from last year's allocation
$665 million for English Language Acquisition, a grant program to help English as a second Language students.
Court Unanimously OKs Peer Grading
The U.S. Supreme Court decided that teachers could continue the age-old practice of asking students to swap papers and grade one another's work. The justices unanimously voted in favor of peer grading, providing it is under a teacher's direction. The case began with the challenge of a Tulsa woman, and mother of four, who claimed that her school district violated her children's privacy by allowing other students to see their schoolwork. The justices said peer grading does not pose a threat to student privacy. (For Gary Stager's opinion on the case, see, "The New Three-fifths Compromise," Speaking Out, DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION, February 2002, p. 21.)