SALEM — An Oregon lawmaker wants to ask voters to allow tax credits to pay for tuition at private and religious schools.

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to take up the idea today, although it’s a longshot in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Boosting access to private schools would create more options for parents and improve schools by increasing competition, said Republican Sen. Betsy Close, of Albany. She wants to let individuals and corporations earn a dollar-for-dollar credit against their taxes for contributions to pay for educational expenses, including private-school tuition.

She has proposed a ballot measure asking voters to create an exception to the state constitution’s iron-clad ban on using tax money to benefit religious institutions.

“I think more competition makes better schools, whether private or public,” Close said.

Critics say the state shouldn’t be indirectly funding private schools by allowing tax credits to divert money from state coffers.

Oregon’s constitution says, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any religeous, or theological institution.”

Voters have twice rejected watering down that language, said David Fidanque, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which opposes Close’s proposal.

“We feel very strongly that keeping the government and religion separate are an important protection for religion as well as for government,” Fidanque said.

Individuals could claim tax credits of up to $1,000 per year, and corporations could claim up to $10,000. The money would not go directly to the schools or parents, but would be funneled through new nonprofit organizations.

Close’s effort is modeled after a program in Arizona that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

(3) comments

peppertree

NO!

I pay taxes to support public schools, and am willing to do so even though I have no children of my own. Those who wish to send their children to private and religious schools are welcome to do so, but I do not wish to subsidize those schools. Regardless of what Arizona does, and regardless of what the Supreme Court upheld, this proposal is unconstitutional and I fervently hope a large proportion of other Oregonians agree with me.

Kilgore Trout
Kilgore Trout

Absolutely no on this.
This is the church/state equivalent to a gun grab proposal. A slope too slippery to even consider. The fact that this concept originated in AZ and is upheld by this Supreme Court is not compelling.
Churches already pay no taxes. For taxpayers to further support a branch of religion, no matter how worthwhile it may seem, is dangerous.
"The money would not go directly to the schools or parents, but would be funneled through new nonprofit organizations." What is the nature of these organizations?
Trust me, there are religions that are active in education that the supporters of this notion would balk at supporting. I would venture that most Judeo-Christians might have some heartburn supporting a Scientology school.
Neutrality on this matter is the only way to ensure equality.

Beaversrule

I would support this if it was specifically for non-religious education. Also, homeschoolers should be able to take some tax credits related to the state's education requirements. I support school choice, but subsidies from the government should be restricted to non-religious organizations.

Mrs. Close should take this issue one step at a time, especially since she recognizes the uphill battle she's got on her hands. Don't showboat. Be pragmatic and get results. School competition is good, don't blow it for ideological reasons.

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