Tax breaks could be big business for better schooling
We live in a nation with an outdated educational system that keeps children fenced in school districts with poorly performing schools. Children in districts like these deserve a chance to get good education at a private school. Unfortunately many in North Forest Independent School District, Houston Independent School District and elsewhere are brought up in low-income families that cannot afford the cost of a private education.
Texas may be on the verge of the education reform it desperately needs. The Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program, or Texas Senate Bill 23, will award businesses up to 15 percent in in-state tax credits for funding scholarships and grants that benefit students living in low-income households or who are at-risk of dropping out.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who serves as the Education Committee chairman, is spearheading this school-choice legislation. Patrick believes his plan will encourage positive competition among schools and significantly lower dropout rates.
“In order to give the children of Texas a better education and a brighter future, we must focus on creating more choices for parents including charter, online learning and the ability for them to find the right school for their child,” Patrick said.
The program will give elementary and high school students living in districts with poorly performing public schools an opportunity to enroll into private academic institutions, including those with religious affiliations. Participating business will receive a tax break, which caps at $100 million, when contributing to a participating non-profit organization. The organization will then disperse the funds in the form of grants to families that qualify.
While it has not been mentioned whether the bill will provide financial aid for students in college, it will definitely benefit prospective students and current college students, like kinesiology senior Sable Horton, who have children.
“Luckily, I’m in a situation where Malachi and Kayla can attend really good public schools,” Horton said. “Had we not lived in Conroe ISD, but in a terrible school district like the one in Houston, the program would definitely make it a lot easier for me to provide them with a good education.”
Horton is a single mother of two elementary-school-aged children and commutes to the University from her home in the suburbs 30 miles north of the city.
Patrick has received strong support for this bill from Brownsville Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., who included the at-risk requirement to the program. However, the bill has received opposition, both from within the state House and from the Coalition of Public Education. The coalition released a statement in March in which it said there were concerns that the proposed bill will provide tax loopholes for corporations and take away critical funding for experimental voucher programs to support private education.
While these are legitimate concerns, we cannot pass up this opportunity to help put kids in a position to compete in the global economy, which will require a strong workforce bolted in a strong educational foundation. Advertising senior Judith Riojas said that by giving these kids that chance to compete, they have a chance to break the cycle of poverty that binds them to their environment.
“I think it’s adventitious because it can break the vicious cycle of poverty that these families find themselves trapped in. If these kids can get a better education, then they’ll have more opportunities to get a higher paying job,” Riojas said. “It’s not that these kids are incapable of succeeding in college, it’s because their parents are in a bad financial situation.”
Like many taxpayers, Riojas expressed strong support for the Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program and said she would prefer the program to be heavily regulated to prevent government and corporate institutions from taking advantage.
Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said there is a concern about a lack of accountability within the program. Aycock said the tax breaks being offered to businesses constitute a use of public funds, and as such, these funds need monitoring to protect the taxpayers.
The bill is currently pending a decision on the floor of the full state senate, which will most likely demand that the bill be rewritten with strict regulations to monitor the program.
The program won’t give the government direct control over the funds, but that doesn’t mean tax money, reflected in tax cuts, will be abused. The grants offered through the program will be funded directly by money collected from the private sector.
Historically, Americans have had a fear of corporate and government manipulation, but including a third party — the non-profit organization — will guide the allocation of these funds to the students that need them.
The non-profit organization participating in the program will have a better understanding of the people living in that particular community. Unlike current federal and state financial aid programs, like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, it will offer applicants a personal application process similar to that offered by private scholarships.
The ramifications of this bill extend beyond the feel-good emotion accompanied with helping a charity case child. It could be our first substantial action toward reversing generational poverty and closing the massive gap between the socioeconomic classes.
Ciara Rouege is an advertising junior and may be reached at [email protected]