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Schools need donations, but tax law must be tweaked

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

In an ideal world, Arizona’s school districts would not need to make their annual December plea that taxpayers take advantage of Arizona Revised Statute 43-1089.01.

That’s the law allowing state taxpayers to make donations to public schools and receive a dollar-for-dollar income tax credit.

Ideally, Arizona’s public schools would be properly funded. Ideally, the state’s teachers would be paid proper wages, class sizes would be small and there would be enough money for the seemingly mythical curriculum that produces students ready for the high-tech, 21st-century workplace.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in Arizona. As in “Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in per-pupil school spending.”

And so Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, this week sent e-mail with the salutation “Dear Tucson Unified Schools Supporter,” asking for donations.

We have had mixed feelings about tax credits. That they bolster the often bare coffers of public schools, allowing them to provide before- and after-school activities (think field trips, arts and PE classes) is good.

That they siphon tax dollars to private education (more than $54 million in tax credits were generated by private school donations in 2007) is not so good.

The law regarding public school tax credits should be tweaked in two ways.

The limit for donations to public schools is $200 per person or $400 per couple yearly. For private schools, the annual limits are $500 per person and $1,000 per couple.

At the very least, the caps on public school donations should be raised to match those on private schools. Certainly, the need is there.

Also, public school donations now can fund only extracurricular and “character building” activities. There are no restrictions on how private school donations can be spent.

Again, the rules should be the same for private and public schools. The Legislature is hungrily eyeing K-12 education funding as a way to fix a $1.2 billion-plus budget deficit. When it comes to school spending, we’ll trust local administrators over a Phoenix-dominated Legislature any day.

Parents aren’t the only people who can take advantage of the tax credits. (Hear that, Grandma and Grandpa?) And they can go to any public school.

The schools – three each in the Tucson, Amphitheater and Sunnyside districts – given the fewest dollars last year are listed with the amount each received in 2007 and addresses where donations may be sent:

Sunnyside

Sierra Middle School, $3,600; 5801 S. del Moral Blvd. (ZIP 85706)

Craycroft Elementary, $4,100; 5455 E. Littletown Road (85706)

Rivera Elementary, $4,150; 5102 S. Cherry Ave. (85706)

Amphitheater

Mesa Verde Elementary, $12,105; 1661 W. Sage St. (85704)

Rio Vista Elementary, $13,415; 1351 E. Limberlost Road (85719)

Holaway Elementary, $14,167; 3500 N. Cherry Ave. (85719)

TUSD

Warren Elementary School, $4,200; 3505 W. Milton Road ( 85746)

Maldonado Elementary School, $4,800; 3535 W. Messala Way (85746)

Cavett Elementary School, $5,100; 2120 E. Naco Vista Drive (85713)

To qualify for the tax credit on 2008 income tax returns, donations need to be dropped off at the school of one’s choice by Dec. 18. Credit card donations need to be made by Dec. 31.

Tax credits make the best of deficiencies in public school funding in Arizona. Take advantage of them, for the schools’ benefit – and yours.

• For links to Web sites dealing with school tax credits, click on this story at www.tucsoncitizen.com/opinion.

Inset:

The caps on public school donations should be raised to match those on private schools.

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