Tax credits keep school programs afloat - East Valley Tribune: News

Tax credits keep school programs afloat

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Posted: Saturday, November 8, 2008 8:44 pm | Updated: 11:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

In Chandler, Frye Elementary School offers students an after-school club where math and reading specialists give them one-on-one attention. And for the last two years, it's all been funded by money from extracurricular activities tax credits.

Arizona taxpayers can give up to $200 for a single person or $400 for a married couple to a district and charter school each year to use for programs outside the class hour that enrich student learning.

In place since 1999, schools have found each year more people are aware of the tax credit and are seeking opportunities to use it.

"The total last year was $1.8 million" in donations to schools in the Chandler Unified School District, said spokesman Terry Locke. "We set an ambitious goal of $2 million this year."

Most of the funds flow into school districts in December, but some districts are already seeing an increase in contributions year-to-date over last year.

In Chandler, up until this week last year, donations were at $647,980. This year, that number was at $736,284.

The Mesa Unified School District also has seen a boost in donations this year, said George Zeigler, district chief financial officer.

Last year, through October, donations were at $903,232. This year, that number is $1,155,354.

When taxpayers give money to their daughter's band program for a trip or their son's after-school chess club, a receipt is issued for the tax credit. When taxes are filed, the credit can apply toward any money the taxpayer has due to the state. People who give donations do not need to be related to a person in the benefiting program or even have a tie to the school. It also can be used to increase a refund.

The Frye program, dubbed Mighty Minds, was funded by a grant until a few years back. Without tax credits, it would be difficult to come up with the $25,000 needed to run the three-times-a-week program, said Principal Paul Ritz.

"The kids pay absolutely nothing at all," Ritz said. "If we didn't have the tax credit money we wouldn't be able to do these types of things. It's just nice having that type of extra cash, and you're able to do something to benefit youngsters."

About a fourth of the third- through sixth-graders at the school are invited to participate in the program at one time. As students improve and a semester break rolls around, they may be rotated out and new students rotated in.

Mighty Minds has helped about 85 percent of the participants improve their AIMS reading and math scores.

"There's other factors to that, too. This is just one intervention we do," Ritz said, noting in-school tutoring and consistent data gathering as other ways to help students.

Other districts use funds in similar ways.

"At the elementary level we have an awful lot of contributions that fund some wonderful activities outside the classroom. One is science camp. The other is oceanography," said Dianne Bowers, spokeswoman for the Gilbert Unified School District. "At the high school level they're used often to finance special opportunities for band."

High school students can collect tax credit funds from extended family members as well as neighbors to help offset costs for field trips. High school bands and choirs from around the East Valley have traveled nationwide to perform in festivals and marching events.

Districts often open on Dec. 31, even if it's a weekend, so community members can make the donation deadline for the tax year. This year, Chandler Unified plans to repeat its tamale giveaway at the district office, and even plans mobile service to those who can't get to the office or just want to save gas.

The Tempe Union High School District plans to be open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

"We serve food. We have coffee and doughnuts. We're open and we'll have tables set up, and people can come in and make their last minute tax-credit donation," said Linda Littell, district spokeswoman.

The three Tempe districts - Tempe Elementary, Tempe Union and Kyrene Elementary - will market the tax credit donations again this year during the Flipping for Education pancake breakfast on Dec. 6. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time.

For information on any of these events, check school district Web sites.

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