Education

Opponents of D. C. Tax Credit Jubilant About Huge Victory

By Eileen White — November 09, 1981 3 min read
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Opponents of tuition tax credits are jubilantly interpreting voters’ overwhelming rejection of the controversial idea here last week as a major setback for the tuition tax-credit movement nationally.

In a school-board election that turned out nearly twice as many voters as had the past two school-board elections, nine out of 10 District of Columbia voters rejected a tuition tax-credit proposal that had provoked a bitter pre-election contest between the forces arrayed for and against the measure.

See page 4 for results of other key school-board elections and education referenda across the nation.

Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. said that the defeat sent a message to conservatives that “nobody ought to mess with our public schools.” The mayor had been criticized during the campaign by advocates of the proposal for mobilizing the city government to defeat it.

The measure had been put on the ballot as a result of petitions circulated by a local affiliate6of the National Taxpayers Union (ntu), a Washington-based conservative group that is also trying to gain national support for a constitutional convention on the issue of a balanced budget and the abolition of the Education Department.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers (aft) and an active opponent of the bill, said, “The reason the National Taxpayers Union came to D.C. is because they thought that the measure would start a national trend. I agree. The defeat is a signal that any place they introduce it, there’s going to be a campaign against it.”

Mr. Shanker contended that the defeat will also have implications for a federal tuition tax-credit proposal, which has gained the support of the Reagan Administration and numerous members of Congress.

“This will give some members of Congress, who had been unsure of which way to vote, a little bit of a nudge against a national tuition tax credit,” he said.

Both the terms and the concept of the Washington referendum had been the focus of an intense debate among several national organizations. The proposal would have allowed taxpayers to reduce their District of Columbia income-tax liability by as much as $1,200 for contributions to the education of children attending public or private schools--including, but not limited to, private-school tuition paid for their own children.

The proposal would have permitted a credit for tuition and fees paid for any private-school students or for private tutoring services for public-school students.

Not only parents, but corporations or other benefactors, would have been eligible for the credit.

Efforts Opposed

Although the ntu failed to gain support for the proposal from the local private-school community and the Archdiocese of Washington, its efforts stirred up opposition from a well-organized coalition of local and national business, labor, and teachers-union leaders.

The aft, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees contributed nearly $100,000 to defeat the measure.

Local affiliates of those unions appealed to the approximately 37,000 union members who are registered D.C. voters, and opponents of the measure encouraged residents to vote in 41 precincts that traditionally produce few voters.

Union Criticized

The opponents labeled the taxpayers union “outsiders” and focused criticism on the more than $120,000 that the ntu reportedly contributed to a radio and television campaign to gain support for the measure.

The ntu chairman, James D. Davidson, said he regretted that the campaign to gain support for the tax-credit measure “had not been organized in a different way.”

The opponents, he said, concentrated on “non-sequiturs; they weren’t interested in discussing the basic issues.”

And they had tried, he said, to convince voters that the measure3would “increase property taxes by 40 percent and drain the city budget.”

Estimated Cost

Mayor Barry had warned, at a press conference last month, that the city would lay off 3,000 to 4,000 employees and increase property taxes because of the measure’s estimated cost to the city of $24 million6to $38 million annually.

The district’s student population is 94,000 public-school students and 20,000 private-school students. Mr. Davidson, who said the 12-year-old taxpayers union had worked for passage of Proposition 13 in California and Proposition 2 in Massachusetts, said the ntu had no immediate plans to try to get the measure introduced elsewhere.

A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 1981 edition of Education Week as Opponents of D. C. Tax Credit Jubilant About Huge Victory

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