June 22, 1982
Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
I am herewith transmitting to the House of Representatives (Senate) proposed legislation entitled ``The Educational Opportunity and Equity Act of 1982.'' This bill would provide for increased diversity in educational opportunity by providing tax relief for parents who choose to send their children to nonpublic schools.
Diversity in educational opportunity has been one of the great strengths of our nation. It is a foundation of our pluralistic society and essential to a nation which places a high value on individual freedom.
We are justly proud of our public schools, which now offer a free education through the primary and secondary school levels to all American children willing to take advantage of it. At the same time, we must remember the important role that has been played since the beginning of our nation by the diverse nonpublic schools which also offer an education to American children. Now, as they did prior to the establishment of our public school system, parents cherish their ability to choose from a wide range of educational opportunities for their children. It is of great importance to the continued vitality of our society that parents have a meaningful choice between public education and the many forms of private education that are available.
It is also important that there be innovation and experimentation in education. The existence of many private, as well as public, schools assures that new and possibly more effective teaching approaches will not go untested. It is also important that the differing needs and demands of students and their parents be met. Parents who, for whatever reason, are not satisfied by the education available in their local public schools should be able to seek an education better suited to their children elsewhere. Furthermore, the existence of a viable private alternative should maintain a healthy pressure on public education authorities to maintain educational standards and meet student needs.
As we are all aware, the cost of education, both public and private, has risen dramatically in recent years. We all bear the burden of the rising costs of public education through state and local taxation, directly or indirectly. But those parents who wish their children to attend nonpublic schools must also bear the additional burden of paying private-school tuition. This additional cost has always severely limited the ability of lower-income families to choose the nonpublic educational alternative for their children. Rising costs are now putting private schools beyond the reach of a growing number of middle-income Americans as well. If we are to provide a meaningful choice to those who have not had it in the past, and preserve a choice for those for whom it is in danger of becoming an illusion, we must find a way to lighten the ``double burden'' these families bear.
We must also bear in mind that private schools do more than offer alternative educational choices to students and their parents. Nonpublic schools also carry a significant part of the burden of providing primary and secondary school education in this country. If it becomes financially impossible for many of the families now sending their children to nonpublic schools to continue to do so, the resulting increase in public school attendance will place large and unwelcome new tax burdens on state and local taxpayers. The cost to taxpayers of offering some tax relief to parents, so that they can afford to keep their children in the private schools of their choice, is modest compared to the cost of educating their children in the public schools.
Thus, in order to promote diversity in education and the freedom of individuals to take advantage of it, and to nurture the pluralism in American society which this diversity fosters, I am transmitting to Congress today a draft bill which provides federal tax credits for the tuition expenses of children attending nonpublic primary or secondary schools. Starting in 1983, the Education Opportunity and Equity Act of 1982, if enacted, would allow a tax credit for the tuition expenses of each student attending a private, nonprofit primary or secondary school. By 1985, when this new tuition tax credit would be fully phased in, a credit equal to 50 percent of tuition expenses paid during the year, but not to exceed $500, would be allowed for each student.
While it would be desirable for the reasons I have already mentioned to extend such tax relief for higher education tuition expenses as well, the large losses in federal tax revenues which would result make it impossible to recommend such legislation at this time. Today's proposal makes an important start by providing this relief where it is most necessary.
Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House of Representatives, and George Bush, President of the Senate.