Massachusetts Needs Tax Credits for Jewish Day School Tuition Relief

January 18, 2013

MASSACHUSETTS NEEDS TAX CREDITS FOR JEWISH DAY SCHOOL TUITION RELIEF

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By Maury Litwack
Director of State Political Affairs and Outreach, Orthodox Union

Reprinted from The Boston Jewish Advocate

A recent study by the Pioneer Institute recommends government support for Massachusetts day schools through a tax credit scholarship program. This approach, which has been successfully pursued in other states, could considerably ease the tuition burden of Massachusetts day school parents.

The study cites the cost of tuition as a primary reason enrollment in Massachusetts Jewish schools is falling faster than in public schools. It argues that Jewish schools are worthy of public support because they train model citizens and provide an excellent education to their students. According to the report, a tax credit scholarship program would serve the state and the Jewish community.

The Orthodox Union has long fought for tuition affordability policies and has pursued tax credit programs in other states. These programs work by allowing corporations to direct their tax dollars to scholarship organizations, which in turn fund scholarships for eligible students. Tax credit programs stand on firm legal ground and greatly benefit Jewish communities in the states that offer them.

Consider Arizona, whose state constitution forbids public funding for religious schools just as the Massachusetts constitution does. Yet, Arizona’s tax credit scholarship program has survived both state and federal court challenges because it’s funded with private money – not public money. Last year, about 60% of Arizona day school students received an average scholarship of $4,025 through the state’s tax credit program (i).

Or take Florida, which has the largest tax credit scholarship program in the country at $228 million per year. A study by the Florida state government found that the program actually saves the state $1.49 in public education spending for every $1 in lost revenue (ii). Last year, roughly 11% of Jewish day school students received an average scholarship of $3,945 through the state’s tax credit program (iii).

However, the Massachusetts state legislators who can ease the tuition problem by creating a tax credit program don’t even know that a tuition problem exists. And they certainly won’t act until their Jewish constituents’ pressure them to.

The Massachusetts Jewish community needs to become more politically active around the issue of day school affordability. For the average Bay State Jew, this means voting in every election, asking friends and family to vote, and regularly contacting legislator’s offices. For community leaders, this means meeting with legislators in person, hosting them for town hall meetings, and inviting them to fundraisers and events.

The OU is committed to working hand in hand with the Jewish community of Massachusetts to pass tax credit scholarships. Our seasoned advocacy team is ready to provide the policy expertise and political guidance necessary for engaging legislators. All we need is the political will to make tax credit scholarships a reality.

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(i) This is based on data from the Jewish Tuition Organization, a tax credit scholarship organization in Arizona.
(ii) This is based on the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability report entitled, “The Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program Saves State Dollars.”
(iii) This is based on data from StepUp for Children, which is the sole tax credit scholarship organization in Florida.

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