President Bush, abandoning a campaign promise that was a high priority for many of his conservative supporters and many religious leaders, said Wednesday that the government “can’t afford” to provide tuition tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.
Tuition tax credits have been an issue of particular importance for Catholic education officials, including those in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which sponsors the largest parochial school system in the nation. They have also been sought by conservative religious fundamentalists as tax relief for parents patronizing the growing number of Christian academies.
Republican strategists have seen the credits as a way of solidifying conservative support and attracting Catholic voters who traditionally have voted Democratic.
But teacher unions and public school advocates have contended that the tuition measure would weaken support for public education and primarily help wealthy families, for whom a tax break would be more valuable.
“That’s outstanding news,” Frances Haywood, vice president of the United Teachers-Los Angeles, said when informed of Bush’s remarks. “It’s a great departure from the stance of the Republican Party.”
“I’m disappointed,” said Bill Rivera, spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, whose schools have an enrollment of 100,000. “This President has called himself the education President, and he’s ignoring a sizable segment of the American population in not recognizing the needs of parochial school students.” The GOP and Bush long have supported tax credits for private schools, although the issue was not one on which Bush personally placed great emphasis during his campaign.
The 1988 Republican platform declared that “we will continue to support tuition tax credits for parents who choose to educate their children in private educational institutions.” In responses to a newspaper questionnaire last year, Bush repeated his support for the tax credit plan.
Points to Budget Problems
But in answering questions from a group of about 75 high school students visiting the White House Wednesday afternoon, Bush said that, while he had “been intrigued with the concept of tuition tax credits,” he has decided that federal budget problems make the idea unworkable.
“So,” he said, “I think everybody should support the public school system, and then, if on top of that, your parents think that they want to shell out in addition to the tax money, tuition money, that’s their right, and that should be respected. But I don’t think they should get a break for that.”
Bush has continued to support “choice” programs that would allow parents to shift children from one public school to another as a way of improving schools by fostering competition. Such programs, however, offer no aid to parents who wish to send children to private institutions.
In other comments to the students, Bush reiterated his belief in local control of school systems and defended his Administration’s position on education spending.