Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell defended the Reagan Administration’s proposal to grant federal tuition tax credits in a hearing last week before a Senate subcommittee.
“The proposal is a tax break that will benefit education. Private schools do a lot of public good just like public schools do,” Mr. Bell said. “We have a considerable amount of [federal] financial assistance for students who go to private colleges. This will provide diversity and choice on the elementary and secondary level just like on the college level,” he said.
“What is the justification?” asked Senator Harrison Schmitt, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
“The Administration says we must cut overall government spending, and you want us to cut Title I and Pell Grants. Today, you’re proposing a tendency in the other direction,” Senator Schmitt said.
“I’m not one that likes the expression ‘tax expenditures,”’ he added, “but nevertheless, this proposal has that effect.”
Mr. Bell claimed that the cost to the federal treasury of the program would be “negligible.” The proposal, which would begin with a maximum credit of $100 in fiscal year 1983, would cost the federal government $100 million in the first year, he said.
Mr. Bell added that although opponents of tuition tax credits have claimed that the tax benefits would be available only to wealthy families, “the average family income for parents who send their children to private schools is $25,000.”
Mr. Schmitt warned the Secretary that even if the Administration’s proposal were enacted, there might be a “fly in the ointment.”
“Three years ago, I co-sponsored tuition tax-credit legislation,” the Senator said. “Since then, through legal research, I’ve come to think that the proposal won’t survive a constitutional test.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 21, 1982 edition of Education Week as Secretary Bell Defends Tax-Credit Plan, Citing ‘Public Good’