THE EDUCATION tax credit has reappeared

on the November ballot. Its essential character remains the same; it is a bad idea. The Board of Elections threw the initiative out on grounds that the people who collected the signatures for the initiative were not qualifed voters in the city. It is this decision the D.C. Court of Appeals has reversed. But none of that changes the character of the initiative, which is a kind of fool's gold. It offers the look of some relief for parents who are paying private- school tuition and who are angry over the state of the District public schools. But it doesn't really help them. The $1,200 that the tax credit would offer parents is too little to allow for a better education for very many children. But it is enough to undermine the budding improvements now apparent in the public schools.

What the credit would mean is that private schools in the city, already brimming with students, would simply be able to raise their tuitions by at least $1,200. The argument has been made that the credit would benefit the public schools because parents could keep their children in public schools and still benefit from the credit by using it to pay for more books and teachers for those budget-constrained public schools. But that so-called extra money would be coming out of the same city treasury that provides for school budgets, and only the most optimistic supporter of the tax credits would assume that the school budget would not shrink as the number of people claiming the credit grew.

Would the public schools improve if parents, unhappy with one public school could take their child and their $1,200 and put them in another public school--free-market competition among the public schools around the city? Competition is to be encouraged, but any one school with a good principal and good teachers can take only so many students. What is needed is improvement in the whole school system. If there is any value to the initiative, it lies in the reminder that public confidence in the schools is dangerously low.