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Monday, October 11, 2010

Step Up for Students

One of Florida's best and most effective parental choice programs has been Step Up for Students, a corporate tuition scholarship program for low-income children.

The corporate tuition scholarship allows corporations in Florida to make tax-deductible contributions to organizations that provide scholarships to low-income children to attend private schools or out-of-district public schools. Corporations get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit (up to 75 percent of their tax liability to the state, up to $5 million) when they donate to a scholarship tuition organization. The total sum of tax credits that can be offered was capped at $88 million last year but will now rise to $118 million.

Low-income students -- meaning students who qualify for free and reduced lunches -- qualified for $3,500 scholarships to attend private schools or $500 scholarships to attend out-of-district public schools.

This year the scholarship has allowed 23,000 low-income children to receive a better education. Minority students have been the biggest beneficiaries of this parental-choice program: about 40 percent of the students are African Americans, 25 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white and about 10 percent Asian or other. On top of helping low-income students receive educational opportunities they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford, the tax credit saved the state an estimated $1.49 for every $1 lost from the tax credit. This means the state may have saved as much as $42 million through the program this year.

Florida isn't the only state with a tax credit program. Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are allowing corporations and/or individuals to donate millions of dollars each year to help low-income children and/or children with disabilities and foster care children attend schools of their choice.

Nevada could create a similar program using the Modified Business Tax (MBT), gaming, room or other taxes as a source of funds. Were the state to use just 50 percent of the MBT (about $125 million) to fund a tuition tax-credit scholarship program, we could send over 17,000 low-income students to private schools on $7,000-scholarships -- or over 41,000 on $3,500-scholarships similar to Florida's.

Parental choice is a diverse movement, with support from all races and all parties, that is growing nationwide. It is time for Nevada to join the reform movement and upgrade to the 21st Century by providing better educational opportunities for our children.

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