March 17, 2023

Clay Wirestone: Kansas legislators’ war on the poor opens worrisome new front: School vouchers and tax avoidance

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Clay Wirestone is the opinion editor for the Kansas Reflector, and he has some strong words for the proposed voucher program.

I reached out to ITEP’s Carl Davis to learn more. He wrote the paper, highlighting how voucher programs piggyback on wealthy people’s desire to avoid taxes. Add that to the problems caused by siphoning students from public school systems, and you have a recipe for disaster.

“The voucher tax policies that states have set up are just bizarre,” Davis told me via email. “You don’t usually see states paying people to give their money to private organizations, and yet that’s exactly what’s happening here. The federal tax code wasn’t written with these kinds of bizarre tax credits in mind, and so we need the IRS to step in and fill in the gaps that these things are slipping through. These problems can be fixed.”

He argues that the Internal Revenue Service needs to tax these kind of credits, given that rich folks have essentially made money from their supposed good deeds.

“It’s a new spin on the old trickle-down philosophy,” Davis said. “The states are giving money to rich people under the guise of helping regular folks.”

Or as Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin, D-Overland Park, put it in January: “Holy tax scams, that is a masterful shell game.”

He also looks at a teacher response to the voucher proposal.

No teacher goes into the field for the money. No teacher goes into the field to indoctrinate. No teacher goes into the field to do anything other than teach children and build a future filled with knowledgeable adults. No one who signed this letter did so for the clout. They did it because they care and because they want to improve the state of Kansas.

The wealthy who would benefit the most from these voucher programs don’t give a flying fig about Kansas. Not really. Not when they have so little at stake.

If the state tumbles down the rabbit hole of underfunded public schools, with teachers fleeing in droves, the richest among us can simply pack up and leave for another state. They can employ private tutors or start a school of their own. They will consider the tax savings worth the moderate trouble. Meanwhile, poor or middle-class families using vouchers will find that $5,000 a year doesn’t go nearly as far as advertised.

The teachers make this all clear in their letter: “We believe a well-educated citizenry is needed for our democracy at a state and national level to function at its highest level. We believe public education is a public good.” They add: “Every child in Kansas has a right to a high-quality education from a nearby public school.”

And he thinks he knows where the support for vouchers comes from. When it comes to that ideal of high-quality education for all…

Few rich people want that. They prefer the system that made them rich to keep it that way. The more students who learn about the world, the more who understand the forces that levitate a few while pummeling the rest, the more that rich people’s fortunes will be at risk. True education, quality education, creates citizens who ask “why?” It creates citizens who demand more from their government. And it creates citizens who believe that we all can learn and do better.

Read the full editorial here. 


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