February 5, 2002 - Issue: Vol. 148, No. 7 — Daily Edition107th Congress (2001 - 2002) - 2nd Session
THE EDUCATION, ACHIEVEMENT, AND OPPORTUNITY ACT
(Extensions of Remarks - February 05, 2002)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Page E84] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] THE EDUCATION, ACHIEVEMENT, AND OPPORTUNITY ACT ______ HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH of new jersey in the house of representatives Tuesday, February 5, 2002 Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing legislation designed to ensure the federal government appropriately assists parents with the financial burdens associated with their child's education. The legislation gives parents more options, and helps them as they search out the best educational setting and tools for their children. To this end, the Education, Achievement, and Opportunity Act will provide refundable tuition tax credits per year, per child, for educational expenses incurred by parents for elementary and secondary school. The legislation would allow parents sending their child to an elementary school up to $2,500 in tax relief, and parents with children in a Catholic or parochial high school could claim up to $3,500 in assistance. Parents who send their child to a Catholic school already pay twice for their child's education: once through their taxes, and a second time for the tuition. These out-of-pocket expenses can really add up and pose an enormous obstacle to the child's lifetime learning opportunities. Without federal support, many parents struggle--and in some cases forgo--a Catholic school education, or any education in a spiritual setting, because the costs are so high. In my own district in New Jersey, a parent who feels Catholic schools are best suited for their child will pay somewhere between $1,840 and $2,566 in tuition costs. If you want to send your child to a parochial high school in the central New Jersey area, a parent is looking at an average tuition bill of $5,571 per student, per year. In other areas of the country, the costs are very similar. Middle-class and lower-income families just cannot--and should not have to--absorb these kinds of costs without some help or recognition from the government. America's children have unique educational needs and goals, and parents are the ones who are best qualified to decide what's in their child's best interest. It just isn't fair to deny a child the ability to pursue the educational program best suited to his/ her needs simply because the child's parents do not have the resources to afford the education program of their choice. We have 59,000,000 youngsters in elementary and secondary school across the U.S.; about 10 percent of these students are enrolled in private, parochial and rabbinical schools. Those families who are already sending their children to such schools, and others planning to send their children to them, would benefit enormously from this proposal, because they are often struggling to make ends meet. Importantly, my education proposal is a tax credit, rather than a voucher, so the total amount of education resources available for all school age children will increase. Under a voucher system, if a school loses enrolled students to a competing school, that school may lose funding and have fewer resources available for their educational program. Under my plan, that outcome is avoided, because it is a ``win- win'' scenario, whereas voucher programs can become a zero-sum situation with ``winners and losers.'' I was very pleased that President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut reform legislation--The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, now P.L. 107-16 included several child and family tax credits to help individuals with their educational priorities. The Bush Tax Cut was a solid down payment to help parents meet the educational needs of their children. Parents can now save up to $2,000 per year in their Education Savings Accounts, and the interest that builds up in them is tax free. When the parent withdraws money for elementary or secondary school expenses, the withdrawal is excluded from their taxable income. If we are to truly make good on our promise that ``no child is left behind,'' we must ensure that Catholic schools are included in this national promise and goal. A child is a child, regardless of what school system they are enrolled. The children enrolled in Catholic, private, and rabbinical schools deserve nothing less than our full support and compassion. The benefits of my legislation are available to any child, no matter what their race, creed, or national origin. And make no mistake: the public school system will continue to remain the backbone of our nation's education system. But we must never forget that the public school system was created to serve students--not the other way around. If a student is performing poorly at a particular school, a parent should have the opportunity to enroll the child in another appropriate setting which has a better chance to meet the child's needs. I urge my colleagues to support the Education, Achievement, and Opportunity Act. ____________________