THE EDUCATION TAX CREDIT proposal that may end up on the Nov. 3 ballot is being pitched by its proponents as a financial bonanza for parents of D.C. school children. With two children who go to private school in Washington, my family would be entitled to deduct up to $2,400 from its D.C. income taxes were the bill passed.

On the face of it, you would expect such a program to sound appealing to my husband and me, what with inflation, high taxes and and the cost of education being what it is today.

The fact is it doesn't sound appealing because I can see where it inevitably would lead. Money needed by the city's mostly black public schools would end up in the city's mainly white private schools. And, in order to cover the drain, the city would have to raise its property taxes.

It is a blatant subsidy for private school parents and, as such, I can't accept it. As tempting as it would be for me, I just can't take the short-term, selfish view.

No, this is one gift I have to refuse.

To me, like many others, education is the biggest legacy I can leave my children. It was my own parents' legacy to me and it was a gift that equipped me to be part of the best educated black generation ever.

With my strong feelings about the importance of an education in mind, a decade or so ago, we made the difficult choice to send our children to private schools. The revolution of black consciousness was in full swing but the D.C. public schools were in chaos. We just did not feel we could sacrifice our childrens' education during the school system's long climb forward.

We debated whether to move to the suburbs where there was a better certainty that the youngsters would learn the three Rs well, or to stay in the city and send them to private schools. We chose to stay.

We were lucky -- few have the opportunity to make such a choice.

Yet, deep within, I have always known that it will be the nation's public schools, not the private ones, that will be the salvation for the majority of black people.

As a woman who has lived through the 1960s revolution and the up and down '70s, I have seen programs ostensibly designed for the poor end up siphoned off by the folks who know best how to manipulate the system. The educational tax credit would fare no better. In the end, the promise it holds out -- to make it possible for people to send their children to private school who otherwise could not afford it -- must fail. It would only help private school parents and public school parents who already are well off and not parents plagued by poverty.

I am also appalled by reports I've had about the tactics of some of those who supposedly have worked to collect signatures for the petitions supporting getting the bill on the ballot. The reports have it that some have been enticing housing project residents to sign by leaving the impression that these residents would "get $1,200" if the bill is passed. The fact is quite different. Most of the project residents have incomes so low that they would scarcely be eligible for $200 in tax benefits. Some of those petitioners reportedly have been using the same tactic on downtown Washington streets.

But there also is a big, if subterranean, feeling within the black community that this issue is part of a referendum on the burgeoning conservatism in America. It looks suspiciously like the city referendum effort, which would harm the city school system terribly, is part of a larger effort to dismantle all public services that have benefitted people at the bottom of the economic ladder.

No, this initiative is something I won't be a part of. I've lived through too much to go along with it, just for the chance to get a $1,200 tax advantage. Far from being attractive, this proposal only serves to remind me that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Especially not in times like these.