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Lawmaker: Give schools flexibility with tax-credit money

PHOENIX – With the possibility of more cuts to education, schools should be able to use donations now targeted for extracurricular activities and character-education programs to buy instructional materials, computers and textbooks, a state lawmaker says.

HB 2121, authored by Rep. Tom Boone, R-Peoria, would amend a program that allows a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for individuals who donate up to $200 and couples who donate up to $400 to public schools. “The whole purpose of the bill is to give school districts the flexibility to mitigate the reductions they will be facing by allowing them to use other funding sources,” Boone said.

The House gave the bill preliminary approval Thursday, setting up a final vote that would send it to the Senate.

In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available, 211,270 people donated $43.9 million to schools through the tax-credit program, according to the Arizona Department of Revenue.

The money currently may only be used for extracurricular programs such as music, field trips, clubs and athletics or for character-education programs that teach values such as trustworthiness, respect and responsibility.

Two education organizations contend the change would set a bad precedent.

Mike Smith, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Administrators Association, said the state is already obligated to provide textbooks, computers and other essentials. “We don’t think parents or anybody else should have to provide schools with classroom materials,” Smith said. “They pay taxes now and that money is supposed to go to public education.”

Tracey Benson, a spokeswoman for the Arizona School Boards Association, said her organization is against tax credits in general because they create inequities among schools.

Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, who voted for the bill in the House Ways and Means Committee, said the budget woes make the measure necessary.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who also voted for the bill in committee, said he is concerned that some schools will receive more donations than others.

“If we are going to have to live with these credits, they might as well be spent on things that are really important to the classroom,” he said.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, who cast the only vote against the bill in committee, said she might change in the final House vote because of the extraordinary circumstances facing the state.

Donors can target their money for a specific activity, and Boone said in committee the bill wouldn’t keep that money from its intended purpose.


School donations

Here are school districts that received the most in 2007, the latest year for which data are available, under a state law that allows a tax credit for donations to public schools:

• Mesa Unified School District: $5.4 million

• Tucson Unified School District: $3 million

• Scottsdale Unified School District: $2.4 million

• Gilbert Unified School District: $2.2 million

• Paradise Valley Unified School District: $2 million

• Chandler Unified School District: $1.8 million

• Prescott Unified School District: $1.6 million

• Deer Valley Unified School District: $1.5 million

• Kyrene Elementary School District: $1.5 million

• Peoria Unified School District: $1.3 million

• Tempe Union High School District: $1.2 million

• Amphitheater Unified School District: $1 million

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