Connecticut Launches Tuition Tax Credit Drive

Published April 1, 2009

To save money and give poor and middle-income students access to better schools, a new group is asking Connecticut to create a tuition tax credit program.

In January, Parents for Education Reform proposed a program enabling corporations to receive a 100 percent credit on donations of up to $50,000 to fund scholarships for students attending religious, private, or out-of-district public schools. The statewide donation cap would be $5 million, and scholarships would be available to children in poor districts whose family incomes do not exceed three times the maximum for the federal free-lunch program—about $83,000 for a family of four.

The maximum scholarship amount would be set at Connecticut’s average per-pupil expenditure—approximately $13,000, according to the latest federal figures—and could apply only to tuition. Only students entering kindergarten or transferring to private, religious, or out-of-district public schools would be eligible.

“We believe the program could save the taxpayers of Connecticut about $5 million a year,” said John L. Cattelan, founder of Parents for Education Reform and director of the Connecticut Federation of Catholic School Parents. The savings would come from students moving from more expensive public schools to less costly private schools.

Bill Offered

A bill proposing the plan (SB 283), sponsored by state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R-Waterbury), was pending in the chamber’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee at press time.

By enacting the program, Connecticut would join a growing group of states with tax credit scholarship programs. According to the Washington, DC-based Alliance for School Choice, six states currently have such programs, and enrollment through them has increased from 57,559 students in the 2003-04 school year to 109,604 in 2008-09.

Cattelan said his group chose a tax credit over a voucher program because it “has a better opportunity of passing,” as the term “voucher” has been tarnished and there is “a reluctance to use public funds to help private and religious schools.”

Adam Schaeffer, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC, says Cattelan’s observations are true for much of the country.

“Because tax credits are private funds rather than checks from the government,” Schaeffer said, “they come with fewer regulations and less threat of government interference with parental choice and schools.” They also give taxpayers control over how their education dollars are spent and don’t force anyone to support a particular kind of education.

“Education tax credits are an increasingly popular, bipartisan reform,” Schaeffer said, “which should come as no surprise considering that credits improve education and expand parental freedom while saving taxpayers huge amounts of money.”

Neal McCluskey ([email protected]) is associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

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Connecticut SB 283: