Bill to help kids & save money killed by teacher union

(’76 Contributor) On Feb. 23 I had the opportunity to testify before the House Committee on Finance, Colorado General Assembly, in support of HB 10-1296, sponsored by Representative Spencer Swalm and Senator Josh Penry. Joining me to testify in support of the bill were Jacque Graham, Principal at Inner City School and Theresa Gallegos, whose child benefits from an ACE scholarship.

The idea behind HB 1296 came from former U.S. Senator Hank Brown, and it would provide low-income families with an annual $1,000 tax credit for enrolling their child in a private school. The bill would also provide a grant of $1,000 to any public school that loses a student to a private school as a consequence of the tax credit.

Regrettably, the bill was killed on a Party line vote, six to five, despite the compelling testimony of Jacque Graham and Theresa Gallegos, and the leadership of Representative Swalm

It is unfortunate, as the bill would have given low-income families a tremendous financial incentive to send their child to a private school, reduced public school class sizes as more children took advantage of the tax credit, and provided public schools with a $1,000 grant to help them give the children that remain behind a better quality education. The bill would have even had a positive fiscal impact on our state, with a savings of $4.9 million in the first year, $8.7 million in the second year, and as much as $36 million in ten years, according to the official fiscal note prepared by Legislative Council.

It’s hard to imagine rejecting a bill that would do so much:

* Provide a much-needed financial benefit to low-income families;
* Allow low-income children to attend quality private schools;
* Support public schools with a $1,000 grant for not teaching a child who left for private school;
* Save the State of Colorado millions of dollars during one of the worst recessions in our history and at a time when the Legislature is proposing to cut K-12 education spending.

During the hearing several comments stood out to me as particularly alarming:

* The full-time lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association (the teacher’s union) testified against the bill, stating that the legislation “doesn’t support public education.” This statement perfectly sums up what is wrong with the CEA. The lobbyist was right that the bill’s intent was not to support public education, even though it would have provided each school $1,000 for every child they lost. The bill was intended to support children, not the bureaucracy of our public education system… and shouldn’t that be the point?

* Other representatives who voted “no” agreed with the CEA lobbyist, saying the bill “undermined” public education. I never would have imagined that giving a public school $1,000 for every child that leaves their school would be seen as undermining public schools. After all, most of the children who would choose to leave would do so because the public school wasn’t effective. Talk about rewarding failure!

While it was frustrating to watch this bill go down in defeat, I was proud to represent the Alliance for Choice in Education and share with the committee some of the amazing things that are happening through our organization. ACE will continue to provide these low-income children with immediate relief from failing public schools, and we will continue to support efforts to extend school choice to every child in Colorado.

The author is executive director of the Alliance for Choice in Education, a Denver-based scholarship program to help disadvantaged parents choose better schools for their children.

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