Arizona led the nation in expanding education choice by creating a private-school scholarship tax credit, and on Monday the state Senate moved to greatly expand the program for disadvantaged children.
Senate Bill 1263 is a win-win for families and for the state budget. It will help low-income parents whose children are now on waiting lists for scholarships to private and religious schools. And it will take some of the public-school growth pressure off the state budget.
Here's how SB1263 works: It extends to corporations the same kind of dollar-for-dollar tax credit individuals can now claim for contributions to private-school scholarship funds. But unlike scholarships funded by the individual tax credit, which can go to any child, the corporate-funded scholarships would have to go to children from low-income families. This answers concerns raised by some that many of the scholarships were being used by wealthy families.
We think those concerns are baseless, since all families, rich or poor, are entitled to a tax-funded education in Arizona. If scholarships funded by tax credits ease the financial burden on families who would send their kids to private schools regardless, so what? By the critics' logic, we should be charging wealthy families tuition to send their kids to public schools.
Their real concern, we suspect, is that the scholarships erode the public-education establishment's monopoly.
Complaints from teachers' unions that the tax credit pulls badly needed dollars out of public schools also are bogus, since public schools are funded on a per-student basis. If anything, growth pressures that put a strain on limited state resources will be reduced.
The real savings, though, come from the fact that the average scholarship is for far less than the $4,500 in state aid for each child in public schools. Scholarships under SB1263 would be limited to $2,500 — a real savings to the state.
We'd like to emphasize one additional point that doesn't get enough attention in arcane debates in the halls of the state Legislature. That is simply that parents deserve choices. And they should be trusted to make choices that are in the best interests of their own children. That quintessentially American principle — individual choice — should supersede the interests of state policy makers and public educators.
As long as it's state policy to provide access to education for every child, then the state should allow avenues that make it easier for parents to pick and choose the schools they want their children to attend.
The House should pass, and Gov. Napolitano should sign, this welcome expansion of freedom and education opportunity.