Governors Warm to Private Scholarship Plan

Published December 1, 2000

When the National Governor’s Association assembled at State College, Pennsylvania this summer, the states’ top executives were reminded by retired General Colin Powell and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan of the need for improved education and outreach to youth.

Although parental choice in education was absent from the meeting’s formal agenda, it was raised often as a way to address the needs of the nation’s young people. Tax credits for private scholarships, already in place in Arizona, attracted positive attention from the governors in attendance.

“This is a marvelous idea. I would be very interested in looking at this plan for our state,” said Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who was instrumental in the passage of Milwaukee’s landmark school voucher program.

Colorado Governor Bill Owens, whose legislature failed to pass a tax credit program in its recently ended session, nevertheless reported “We are very excited about this approach. Everybody wants to get it done next year.” Virginia Governor James Gilmore and Michigan Governor John Engler also expressed interest.

Under a private scholarship tax credit plan, businesses and individuals may take a state income tax credit for contributions to private, nonprofit organizations that provide scholarship assistance for children to attend a public or nonpublic school chosen by their parents. Arizona’s plan, challenged in court by the National Education Association and American Civil Liberties Union, was deemed constitutional by the state supreme court. The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to consider an appeal to that ruling, but the ACLU has filed another challenge.

The governors were intrigued by a survey conducted by the Polling Company, which reported that 77 percent of registered voters polled–and 82 percent of registered Democrats–support tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations.

Still, not all governors expressed enthusiasm for the tax credit plan. While California Governor Gray Davis considers the private scholarship program launched by businessmen Ted Forstmann and John Walton “good because it is private money,” he hesitated when asked about providing such donors with a state income tax credit. “I’m going to have to think long and hard about that one,” said Davis.

Martin Angell is founder and director of A Choice for Every Child Foundation in Dallas, Texas. He may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].