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D.C. May Vote on Tuition Tax Credits

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Washington--The District of Columbia's Board of Elections and Ethics last week asked the Court of Appeals here to reconsider an earlier decision that placed a controversial education tax-credit proposal on the city's Nov. 3 ballot. Opponents of the proposal claim it could consume up to one-third of the city's revenues if implemented.

Earlier this month a three-judge appeals court panel overturned a decision by the elections board not to place the proposal on the ballot. The board said more than 80 percent of the signatures on petitions calling for the referendum were collected illegally.

William H. Lewis, the election board's general counsel, said the board filed a motion Sept. 23 requesting that all nine members of the appeals court review the earlier decision. "We hope that the full court will grant a hearing date soon, giving them enough time to rule on the issue prior to the election," he said.

The proposal, if approved by voters, would take effect on Jan. 1 and would be the first of its kind to succeed in the nation. But both supporters and opponents of the measure agree that a long battle in federal courts will probably delay implementation of the plan even if it wins on election day.

The District of Columbia proposal differs from similar initiatives in other states and communities because it would extend up to $1,200 in tax credits not only to a student's parents, but also to every other person, group, or business that helps pay the cost of the child's schooling.

Theoretically, an unlimited number of persons could each contribute $1,200 to support a child in a private school and each could claim a full tax deduction from the city, explained William H. Simons, president of the Washington Teachers' Union.

"There are approximately 20,000 students attending private schools in Washington now, and if the city paid out just one full deduction for each one that would amount to $24 million," he said. "But if four different persons, or any combination of persons, businesses, or churches each chipped in $1,200 for that child's education the city would be out almost $100 million."

This year the city has allocated $245.8 million for the public school system, which has an enrollment of approximately 100,000 students. The city's total fiscal year 1980 budget, Mr. Simons added, was $330 million.

Members of the D.C. Committee for Improved Education, which has led the fight for the proposal, counter that the city stands to gain, not lose revenue if the plan is adopted.

"The average cost per pupil in Washington is $3,682," said Charles M. Pike, the committee's campaign manager. "When you stack that up against the $1,200 tax credit it's clear that the city's gross revenue will decrease but its total operating costs will go down much more."

Mr. Pike said the tax-credit initiative is not an effort to abandon public education. "All we want to do is give parents a real choice in deciding how and where their children will learn," he explained. "I don't profess to be an all-knowing ruler, and neither should our opponents. We feel that parents should be allowed to make the decisions on what's best for their children." --T.M.

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