The Post's Aug. 27 editorial opposing the president's tuition tax credit bill is misleading. Its charge that the president's bill would allow credits to go to racially discriminatory schools is false and is based on a distortion of the facts. This false accusation must be put to rest so that Congress and the American people can proceed to consider the real issue at stake in tuition tax credits.
The Post concludes that the president's bill constitutes "an endorsement of segregated private schools" because it "does not provide for enforcement by the IRS." What the Post never mentions, however, is that the bill contains explicit, strong and unequivocal prohibitions against racial discrimination, that it specifically confers enforcement authority on the Department of Justice, the agency generally charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, and that it provides the attorney general with all the tools he needs to enforce the non-discrimination requirements, including civil and criminal penalties. Surely these provisions, which are modeled after numerous civil rights laws, deserve mention in any editorial that seeks to condemn the president's bill as an attempt to benefit segregated schools.
These provisions have in fact been analyzed closely by a variety of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and nonsectarian groups which have been staunch opponents of racial discrinination for many years. Diverse groups such as Agudath Israel, the Knights of Columbus and the Moral Majority have not only endorsed the bill, but have publicly applauded its anti-discrimination provisions. In short, those groups with sincere commitments against racial discrimination but which are not hostile to the concept of tuition tax credits are fully satisfied by the president's bill.
But those same groups also have a legitimate concern that government regulation not become an excessive intrusion and burden upon racially fair-minded schools. People understandably want to protect against regulations such as those proposed by the IRS in 1978 and retracted under massive protest, which would have imposed presumptions of guilt and quota requirements on many private schools totally innocent of racial discrimination.
The president's bill achieves a balance, ensuring that discriminatory schools do not benefit, and that fair-minded schools do not suffer. Those who oppose the whole idea of tuition tax credits know that to move the discrimination provisions away from this balance will ensure defeat for the bill.
The Post's editorial conceals the facts that readers need in order to judge for themselves whether the president's bill is a balanced approach. The distortion of facts also obscures the issue that our citizens and representatives most need to address in the tuition tax credit debate.
That issue concerns the continued vitality, diversity and pluralism of our educational system. It concerns meaningful choice for parents between public education and the many forms of private education that are available. Parents have a fundamental right to send their children to schools that reflect their own moral values and educational preferences. The rising costs of education, however, are threatening to put this freedom of choice beyond the reach of many low- and middle-income families who cannot afford the "double burden" of paying private school tuition and state and local taxes that support the public school system. The issue is whether freedom of choice in education is going to survive only for the wealthy or whether that freedom will be prserved and extended for low- and middle-income families.
The president's bill will help preserve educational freedom and will provide the greatest benefit to those who need it most -- low- and middle-income families, who are the largest users of private schools. In 1979, fully 54 percent of the students in private schools came from families with incomes below $25,000.
It is sad that some opponents of tuition tax credits have chosen to manipulate the issue of racial discrimination in their efforts to defeat this bill.
Minorities will be among the chief beneficiaries of the president's bill. Minority parents want a choice between public and private schools. Fully 19 percent of the students in Catholic schools are members of a racial minority. Recent studies show that in many urban areas 70 to 80 percent of parochial school children are members of racial minorities. One-third of the families with children in these schools are Protestant.
There are already hundreds of thousands of minority families making heroic sacrifices so that their children can attend private schools. The president's bill will help these families and bring a real choice to many more who presently do not have it. The bill will greatly enrich and expand the educational opportunities of minorities. That is why economists Thomas Sowell and E. G. West agree that tuition tax credits have "a revolutionary potential for low-income groups."
Supporters of tuition tax credits have worked long and hard for educational opportunity for American families of all races and income levels. The president's bill is the most fair and effective way to bring their efforts to fruition. Congress should pass this bill before this session is out.