Corporate versus public scholarships

Corporate versus public scholarships

Shane Wade

Columnist

An odd event occurred in Virginia politics last week: Senate Democrats defeated a piece of legislation, House Bill 2314, that would have enabled corporations to claim tax credits for donating money that gave scholarships to private schools for low-income children.

The tax credit would be equal to 70 percent of the money they gave to an approved scholarship foundation, with a limit of $25 million per year; the scholarship organizations would then be required to spend at least 90 percent or more of the contributions funding scholarships for students that qualify for the federal government’s free or reduced-price lunch program.

While the sight of Republicans creating tax loopholes or cuts for corporations might seem ordinary, rarely does one see Democrats siding against legislation that would otherwise benefit underprivileged children.

So why did Democrats vote against a measure that would save the state thousands of dollars that would have gone to publicly educating a few low-income students? Perhaps because they’re pragmatists.

According to the Public Education Finance’s 2008 report, the cost of putting students through the public school system in Virginia is $10,659. Under HB 2314, every student that is diverted from that stream and sent into a private school by a $100,000 corporate donation will “cost” the state $70,000 in tax revenue, but “save” the state $90,000 in educational expenses.

Financially, that makes sense; the state saves itself $20,000 by not educating one child and can instead funnel that money into operational expenses, such as teacher salaries and building maintenance. But it would be a tenuous response, as the cost of those expenses tend to fluctuate depending on external factors. That potential $20,000 “savings” would be funneled toward funding already undercut school budgets and operational costs, which wouldn’t decrease significantly with the loss of a single pupil.

In addition, it does nothing to help improve Virginia’s public school system and shows a lack of faith and confidence in our ability to reform public schools. Senate Democrats should be applauded for adhering to their principles and their commitment to fairness for the majority. While the legislation would vastly benefit a number of low-income students, it would take vital revenue away from the public school system.

This legislation would be more effective if it did not reward corporations so richly for a false show of altruism, but that’s the world we live in. It’s a terrible and difficult choice – the choice between providing a few with a better life at the cost of others and maintaining the ineffective status quo of public education – but it’s a choice that must be made.

Public education exists for the betterment of America and our youth. Those that cannot afford schooling are benefitted and served immensely by public education; those that would otherwise live lives of crime and debauchery find a haven within school. Those with physical or mental disabilities and those without parents, guardians or mentors at home live for school and education.

Corporations and private enterprises will not pay for your children to attend school, and parents should not be forced to abandon their idea of the American dream in order to homeschool their children.

There’s no quick fix for reforming America’s public school system. While there needs to be a serious debate and overhaul of our public schools, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves into believing investment solely in private education solves the problem.

Taking money away from public schools can be equally as destructive. By approaching the problem on multiple fronts – investing in scholarships for underprivileged children to go to private schools while reforming public schools to better educate and prepare students for a changing world – we’ll have our Sputnik moment in public education.

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