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Reagan To Tell Catholic Group Of Plan for Tuition Tax Credit

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Washington--After an intense six-month lobbying campaign in favor of tuition tax credits, the nation's Catholic school parents and educators expect the keynote speaker at their Chicago conference this week--President Ronald Reagan--to unveil his Administration's tax-credit proposal.

Mr. Reagan's address to the National Catholic Educational Association (ncea), scheduled for tomorrow, is likely to contain details about his plan to grant tax benefits to parents who pay private-school tuition, according to Administration sources.

The association represents 10,000 Catholic schools and colleges that educate 3.5 million students.

Details Unavailable

Specific details about the plan, which Mr. Reagan promised to support during the 1980 Presidential campaign but which he failed to include in the Administration's fiscal 1983 budget proposal, were unavailable last week.

Administration sources said, however, that the tax-credit plan would be likely to begin in the fiscal year 1984, and that the amount of the tax credit could be as low as $100 in the first year.

In making the announcement, President Reagan would be making good on a pledge he made by telegram last October to another group of Catholic educators, the Chief Administrators of Catholic Education (cace). In a message sent to the group during its annual convention, the President promised to "initiate" tuition tax-credit legislation "later in the 97th Congress."

After receiving that pledge, the cace members passed a resolution urging "a continuing campaign among parents, teachers, and administrators to complement the President and those members of Congress who are supporting tuition tax-credit legislation. ..."

The campaign was coordinated by the U.S. Catholic Conference (uscc) here, in conjunction with state Catholic conferences around the country. P. Edward Anthony, director of the office for educational assistance of the uscc, said the lobbying effort was stepped up after the President issued his fiscal 1983 budget proposal. Although the proposal contained one sentence that said the President would send a tuition tax-credit bill to the Congress "later in the year," it made no provision for the revenue loss in the fiscal year 1983.

"There was some concern following the President's budget message," said Mr. Anthony. "We asked people to let the President know they were holding him to his commitment."

Since the budget was introduced early in February, nine Republican members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to Mr. Reagan urging him to "push the issue [of tuition tax credits]." The National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that sought the President's "strong and immediate support for enactment of tuition tax-credit legislation during the 97th Congress." And letters in support of the tax credits from Catholic constituents throughout the U.S. have been received by members of Congress.

The lobbying effort reached its peak on April 1, when a New York group called the Coordinating Committee on Educational Assistance delivered 725,000 letters expressing support for tuition tax credits to the New York Congressional delegation.

Members of the group, who asked their Senators and Congressmen to deliver the letters to the White House, included the state's Catholic associations of parents, school administrators, and school superintendents. In an attempt to gather as many signatures as possible, some of the form letters had been placed in church pews for parishioners to sign before Sunday Mass, said Peter Gallagher, a Binghamton, N.Y., parent who heads the coordinating committee.

Their letters joined the 500,000 others that had been sent to the President several months ago by Catholics from Brooklyn, he said.

Tuition Tax Credits

Mr. Gallagher said he was planning to attend the conference this week. "I'm hoping the President speaks about tuition tax credits, because that's the only thing we'll listen to," he said.

Msgr. John F. Myers, the president and executive director of the ncea, also said he was anticipating an announcement about tax credits from the President. "I hope he calls attention to the need to improve education in the U.S. and proposes various means by which that can be achieved, including tuition tax credits," Monsignor Myers said.

"Unlike the public-school prophets of doom, I think tuition tax credits may do more for the improvement of public education than simply allocating more money to [the public schools]. Not all of the problems of the public schools revolve around money. They need to create an environment in which students can learn," he said.

"It's happening in the Catholic schools," he continued. "The key is the expectancy that teachers have and the insistence that students work to their full potential. This requires educational programs that are well designed, relevant, and made interesting for the students, even though learning is work."

"It's like the old Monopoly game," the monsignor said. "If you know you'll have little or no competition, you can become complacent. Whereas if you know parents have the freedom to select or not to select your product, then there is a certain amount of pressure to make sure you do your very best."

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