Wednesday, January 29, 2020

FL: Another Voucher Problem (And Not The One You Think)

When the Orlando Sentinel revealed that many Florida private schools-- eighty-some of them!-- were both receiving taxpayer dollars and openly discriminating against LGBTQ students, it was not exactly news. Rebecca Klein had the same story on a national level at Huffington Post back in 2017. Voucher money goes to religious schools, and some religious schools discriminate against LGBTQ students (and teachers).

But sometimes a particular story hits at just the right moment and suddenly draws a huge reaction. That's apparently what happened this time, because the backlash against Florida's tax credit scholarship program has begun (tax credit scholarship programs, you may recall, are the programs that let wealthy donors fund their favorite private school in place of paying their taxes).

Two huge banks-- Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bank-- have indicated that they would no longer contribute to the Florida program (Step Up for Children) funding the vouchers.

We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students. All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind.

We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students.

This may seem like great news. I'm not so sure. Here's why.

First, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third are both based out of state-- Wells Fargo in San Francisco and Fifth Third in Cincinnati. So you've got major school funding coming from entities that are not particularly local.

Second, and more importantly, this is uncomfortable news about how exactly is in charge here. It's great that these patrons are flexing their funding muscles in a good cause, but what if they weren't? What if they were tying funding to demands that the schools be less inclusive?

This whole business is a reminder that tax credit scholarship programs put schools at the mercy of their wealthy patrons, and even if the private voucher-accepting school were locally owned and operated, now they face the prospect of having their purse strings held by some corporate mucky-mucks on the other side of the country.

And the business about how voucher programs "empower" parents and students because now they can exert market pressure by "voting with their feet" turns out to be high grade baloney, because the feet that matter most are the ones attached to the people who write the big checks. Folks running private schools who get their school into a program like this will rue the day. I imagine some in Florida are ruing it right now. The purse strings are held by folks who aren't accountable to parents, voters, taxpayers or anything but their own business interests, which may or may not align with education.

And lest we forget, this is the same program that Betsy DeVos wants to operate on a national scale as Education Freedom. It does not empower parents; it empowers rich folks who want to avoid taxes and who want to have a big fat say in how certain schools are run.

1 comment:

  1. Last year's tax changes included a provision that only $10,000 in state and local taxes can be deducted on a federal income tax return. Some states said, "if you will donate the amount of your property tax and state income tax, we will give you an equal tax credit to apply against your taxes.". That would allow someone with $20,000 in those taxes to claim them all as charitable donations, circumventing the limit.

    The IRS subsequently ruled that if you get dollar-for-dollar tax credit, then it is not a deductible expense. The same rules apply to corporations that get tax credits for donating to Florida private school vouchers.

    With no tax break, the carrot is gone. I imagine the bean counters and tax attorneys at Wells Fargo caught on quickly.