October 25, 2005
Trips to the zoo are in — trips to Disneyland out.
At least, that was the intent of the Arizona Legislature when it changed state law this year so that schools could use extracurricular tax credit donations for educational purposes only.
The law was changed during the last legislative session after lawmakers learned some schools were including fun field trips within overall educational activities.
Most school officials agree with the change. But it has also caused some confusion among school districts.
"They were trying to eliminate play trips," said Joel Wirth, director of finance for the Chandler Unified School District. "Sometimes, they’d go over somewhere for a band concert and then go to Disneyland afterward. I think the Legislature got wind of that kind of stuff, and, rightfully, it frustrated them."
State law now clearly states that all activities must be "educational" — a term that at face value may seem easy for districts to define themselves. Events cannot be purely recreational.
The change also allows character education programs outside school to be funded by the tax credits. And, instead of principals determining where to direct money donated to a school, campus site councils that include parents and teachers will make the decisions.
The way the tax credit works, couples can donate up to $250 and individuals up to $200 to a school, district or specific club or activity.
The donors get refunds when they file their state taxes.
The money is meant only for extracurricular activities and cannot be used to increase classroom funding.
George Zeigler, director of finance for the Mesa Unified School District, said most of the events now funded by the tax credits will fall under "educational." That can include noncredit courses, for instance. It can also include music groups traveling for competition.
"The hard part comes in defining what is recreational amusement versus educational," Zeigler said. "Mesa Southwest Museum is a cool spot, and something tourists might be attracted to. But it definitely has an educational purpose. You can go to the state fair — but what if you ride the rides? "
But, he added, "if somebody said they’re going to go down the Salt River in inner tubes — that’s clearly recreational."