AS NOV. 3 approaches, the questions surrounding

the education tax credit proposal don't go away --they grow larger. It remains unclear how many people can benefit from the tax credit. For example, can a person pay tuition for three children and receive a $1,200 tax credit per child, or is a taxpayer limited to a single $1,200 contribution? No one knows for sure. It is also unclear how many people would take advantage of the tax credit and, consequently, how much the tax credits would cost the city. Estimates range from $10 million to $50 million depending on who is offering the number in support of what argument.

The proposal's pretention to the banner of greater choice founders on the fact that $1,200 is not enough to help most parents pay for private school tuition for the children who are not now in private schools. Most District parents do not even pay enough taxes to qualify for the full $1,200 credit. Given the personal pressure on each parent to get the best education for his or her child, there is the temptation to grab at the tax credit, even if it has some glaring problems. But the credit will not necessarily mean a chance for a better education for most children. The raid on the city Treasury would also curb the public school system's ability to provide programs for very bright or slow or other special children. In addition, revenue lossses would no doubt prompt increases in other taxes that would offset any gains made through the tuition credit.

If there is a positive aspect to the initiative controversy, it appears to be that it is raising a big stick to the public schools and saying that public confidence in them is low and that if they do not improve there really are threats to their existence.