Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Tuition Tax Credit Legislation

February 16, 1983

To the Congress of the United States:

I am herewith transmitting proposed legislation entitled the ``Educational Opportunity and Equity Act of 1983.'' This bill would provide for increased diversity in educational opportunity by providing tax relief for parents who choose to send their children to nonpublic schools. Substantially the same bill was favorably reported by the Senate Finance Committee late in the 97th Congress. I call upon the 98th Congress to give enactment of this legislation the highest priority.

Diversity in educational opportunity has been one of the great strengths of our Nation. It is a foundation of our pluralistic society and essential to a Nation which places a high value on individual freedom.

We are justly proud of our public schools which now offer a free education through the primary and secondary school levels to all American children willing to take advantage of it. At the same time, we must remember the important role that has been played since the beginning of our Nation by the diverse nonpublic schools which also offer an education to American children. Now, as they did prior to the establishment of our public school system, parents cherish their ability to choose from a wide range of educational opportunities for their children. It is of great importance to the continued vitality of our society that parents have a meaningful choice between public education and the many forms of private education that are available.

It is also important that there be innovation and experimentation in education. The existence of many private, as well as public, schools assures that new and possibly more effective teaching approaches will not go untested. It is also important that the differing needs and demands of students and their parents be met. Parents who, for whatever reason, are not satisfied by the education available in their local public schools should be able to seek an education better suited to their children elsewhere. Furthermore, the existence of a viable private alternative should maintain educational standards and meet student needs.

As we are all aware, the cost of education, both public and private, has risen dramatically in recent years. We all bear the burden of the rising costs of public education through State and local taxation, directly or indirectly. But those parents who wish their children to attend nonpublic schools must also bear the additional burden of paying private school tuition. This additional cost has always severely limited the ability of lower income families to choose the nonpublic educational alternative for their children. Rising costs are now putting private schools beyond the reach of a growing number of middle-income Americans as well. If we are to provide a meaningful choice for those for whom it is in danger of becoming an illusion, we must find a way to lighten the ``double burden'' these families bear.

We must also bear in mind that private schools do more than offer alternative educational choices to students and their parents. Nonpublic schools also carry a significant part of the burden of providing primary and secondary school education in this country. If it becomes financially impossible for many of the families now sending their children to nonpublic schools to continue to do so, the resulting increase in public school attendance will place large and unwelcome new tax burdens on State and local taxpayers. The cost to taxpayers of offering some tax relief to parents, so that they can afford to keep their children in the private schools of their choice, is modest compared to the cost of educating their children in the public schools.

Thus, in order to promote diversity in education and the freedom of individuals to take advantage of it and to nurture the pluralism in American society which this diversity fosters, I am transmitting today a draft bill which provides Federal tax credits for the tuition expenses of children attending nonpublic primary or secondary schools. Starting in 1983, the Educational Opportunity and Equity Act of 1983, if enacted, would allow a tax credit for the tuition expenses of each student attending a private, nonprofit primary or secondary school. By 1985, when this new tuition tax credit would be fully phased in, a credit equal to 50% of tuition expenses paid during the year, but not to exceed $300, would be allowed for each student from a family with adjusted gross income of up to $40,000. The tax credit would be phased down for families with adjusted gross incomes between $40,000 and $60,000, and no credit would be available to families with income in excess of $60,000. Because the tax credit is designed to gradually phase out for those taxpayers making in excess of $40,000 a year, the proposal provides the greatest assistance to these lower- and middle-income taxpayers who are most severely affected by rising private school tuition expenses.

Today's proposal makes an important start by providing this relief where it is most necessary. I will be proposing other legislation in the near future to address the problem of financing higher education.

This Administration will not tolerate the use of tuition tax credits to foster racial discrimination. Consequently, the bill contains strong provisions to ensure that no credits will be permitted for amounts paid to schools that follow racially discriminatory policies. These provisions are identical to those that were adopted by the Senate Finance Committee last Fall with broad bipartisan support.

I ask that the Congress move as quickly as possible to enact this much-needed legislation.

Ronald Reagan

The White House,

February 16, 1983.