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Adam Urbanski President Rochester Teachers Association Rochester, N.Y.

President Reagan's proposal to provide tuition tax credits to the parents of private-school students adds insult to injury. It's obvious that public education is under a tremendous assault already, given the severe cuts in federal aid to the disavantaged and the handicapped.

And now, sticking up for "the working Americans who are overtaxed and underappreciated," President Reagan wants to give "a tuition tax credit for parents who bear the double burden of public- and private-school costs."

How charitable of him! Under this plan, full credit would be given to families with incomes of $50,000. Partial credit would be given to those "overburdened" with incomes of $75,000. Tuition tax credits would thus benefit those who least need them and represent a governmental incentive to middle-class students to leave the public schools rather than to stay and provide a base of support to continue the quality of public schools. Their exodus will leave the public schools servicing high-cost pupils with dwindling resources.

Nonetheless, the President's speech announcing the ill-advised plan included the following sentence: "I would hope that we are offering help to the inner-city child who faces a world of drugs and crime, the child with special needs ... " How ironic! That's exactly what the plan would prevent. At a time of shrinking financial aid to education, the tuition tax-credit plan would tip the scales even more against free public education. And public schools are the only hope for that inner-city child and millions of other children in this country.

The idea is costly and hypocritical at a time when the Reagan Administration is severely slashing federal aid to public schools in general and for compensatory education in particular.

This inflationary measure would also cause the cost of private education to escalate. Tax credits would enable private schools to increase their tuition because parents would be receiving a tax credit to offset the increased costs.

But the worst thing about this bad idea is that it threatens one of America's most glorious institutions. Nowhere is access to educational opportunity broader than in the United States. Our public schools continue to honor their commitment to educate even those who have learning problems, handicaps, and other special needs. Though private schools often serve a useful purpose, they cannot and do not offer the same guarantee.

Without representation through publicly elected school boards, taxpayers would have no control over decisions made by private and parochial schools, yet public tax dollars would be supporting their activities. Private schools are not subject to the same federal and state regulations as public schools. They can be selective in admissions, expel unwanted students, and hire uncertified teachers. These critical differences should not be overlooked.

Ever since the epochal Massachusetts Schools of Law of 1647, our system of free public education has served as a cornerstone of our democratic society. For millions of Americans, it has been the principal vehicle for opportunity and upward mobility. Then and now, countless parents made the necessary sacrifices so that their children could get an education and inherit a better life.

There's an old saying that governments do the right thing only after they've tried everything else. Well, tuition tax-credit proposals have been introduced in Congress since the early 1950's. Let us finally abandon this plan and keep alive the hopes of the next generation.


Adam Urbanski President Rochester Teachers Association Rochester, N.Y.

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