Panel advances tax breaks for private education
Source: The Times and Democrat
By: Seanna Adcox
March 7, 2012
COLUMBIA — A measure offsetting parents’ cost of private school tuition and homeschool expenses moved Tuesday to the House floor.
The House Ways and Means Committee voted 16-8 to advance the measure sponsored by committee Chairman Brian White, which is projected to reduce state revenues by $37 million in 2012-13.
White said his measure represents a home-grown version of a long-divisive issue that’s been fueled by out-of-state money. While its price tag is much cheaper than earlier versions, there is no plan for how to pay for it.
The vote comes a week before the full House takes up the committee’s state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, which does not incorporate the idea. White said Republicans have no plan to address it during next week’s budget debate.
Instead, he said, that would be part of budget negotiations with senators after that chamber passes its budget plan.
That depends on the idea actually gaining steam in the Senate. The issue has died repeatedly in the Legislature over the last decade.
White’s bill, which has attracted more than 60 co-sponsors in this election year, would allow parents to take a $4,000 tax deduction per child for tuition paid, $2,000 for homeschool expenses and $1,000 for parents who send their children to a public school outside of the district where they live.
Unlike previous versions, there is no phase-in for students already in private or home schools. All parents could begin claiming the deduction in 2012-13.
It would allow people to claim tax credits for donating to newly created nonprofits giving scholarships to poor and disabled students. The grants could total up to 75 percent of their tuition costs. The measure caps the total tax credits allowed _ a first. They can’t exceed $10 million for scholarships awarded to students with disabilities, and $15 million for students who qualify for free- or reduced-price meals.
The committee approved an amendment requiring that benefiting private schools post online results of students’ standardized tests.
Republicans refused attempts to require they use the same standardized tests as public schools.
That’s the only way to get a true performance comparison, said Rep. Michael Anthony, D-Union.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said criteria for teachers and for reporting incidents to law enforcement should also be the same.
“When we’re talking about shifting public dollars to private schools, why aren’t we shifting along with those dollars public school standards?” she asked. “Why are we shifting public dollars to private schools but don’t want private schools to be judged by the same criteria?”
Democrats argued the legislation still lacked accountability, while Republicans countered that parents would hold the schools they choose accountable on their own.