Scholarship Donors Can Get $500 Tax Credit in Arizona: Poor Children Given Funds to Attend Private Schools

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Arizona Gov. J. Fife Symington III yesterday signed a bill allowing state residents to claim up to a $500 income tax credit for donations to charitable "school tuition organizations" that provide scholarships to help children attend private schools.

It is the first such law in the country, said GOP State Rep. Mark Anderson, the bill's sponsor.

"Lots of low-income children would like to get out of schools where there are gangs and drugs," Mr. Anderson said. "This opens the door for more children to have that opportunity."

Several charitable organizations in Arizona funnel private donations in the form of scholarships to low-income children seeking to escape inner-city schools, according to Mr. Anderson.

"This will enable them to move a lot more children from public to private schools, and in doing that, it will create more of an awareness that there should be greater educational choices and more options than just the school that happens to be in the neighborhood," he said.

Foes of the legislation, led by the Arizona School Boards Association, vowed a court fight and could try to delay implementation of the law by seeking a voter referendum on the question.

A coalition of education groups including the Arizona Education Association, an affiliate of the 2.2 million-member National Education Association; the PTA; and associations representing school administrators and school board members will meet today to discuss strategy, said Jack Peterson, executive director of the state School Boards Association.

"This is a back-door voucher," said Mr. Peterson. "So is the Arizona charter schools issue. These are all back-door vouchers." He said the tax credits are designed "to divert public tax dollars to private purposes. That's where this agenda is headed."

The bill needed the votes of 16 of the legislature's 30 senators and 31 of the 60 representatives.

"We got 16 votes in the Senate and 31 in the House," Mr. Anderson said. "It was not a landslide. …