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Public Statements

The Education, Achievement and Opportunity Act

Location: Washington, DC

THE EDUCATION, ACHIEVEMENT AND OPPORTUNITY ACT -- (Extensions of Remarks - February 02, 2005)


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, this week marks the 31st Anniversary of National Catholic Schools Week, a week in which Catholics spotlight the important mission of providing quality education and strong character building of the 7,955 Catholic Schools across the country.

In conjunction with this important recognition as well as National Catholic Schools Appreciation Day, I have introduced legislation designed to ensure that the federal government appropriately assists parents with the financial burdens associated with their children's education at a public or private school. My legislation, the Education, Achievement and Opportunity Act will provide refundable tuition tax credits for the educational expenses incurred by parents of children enrolled in elementary and secondary school. The legislation offers parents of elementary school children up to $2,500 in tax relief, while parents of a child in high school could claim up to $3,500 in assistance.
Parents who choose to send their children to a Catholic school, or any private 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 certainly add up for some families and may pose an enormous obstacle to others. Sadly, many parents struggle-and some may have to forgo a Catholic School education-or any religious based school education-for financial reasons.

Recognizing the unique and enriching educational value that Catholic schools provide, I feel it is important that every parent have the option to send their children to such a school if they wish. It is important to note that not only parents of children in the Catholic School system will benefit from this legislation. The tax relief contained in my proposal can be utilized by parents of children in private and public schools to pay for a variety of educational expenses. Most significantly, the tax credits are designed to help parents with the cost of tuition. However, the tax credits can be used to help meet the costs of other educational needs: (1) computers, educational software, and books required for course of instruction; (2) academic tutoring; (3) special needs services for qualifying children with disabilities (4) fees for transportation services to and from a private school, if the transportation is provided by the school and the school charges a fee for the transportation; and (5) academic testing services.

The Education, Achievement and Opportunity Act proposes a tax credit, not a voucher, so the total amount of educational 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 the funding along with the student. Under my plan, that negative outcome is avoided.

There are over 59 million youngsters in elementary and secondary schools across the U.S. today-about 10 percent of these students are enrolled in private, parochial and rabbinical schools. If the public education system had to suddenly absorb all of these students, they would be financially unable to do so. Therefore, the public schools benefit from the existence of the private schools as well.

As every child is unique, so are their educational needs. It is important to support our nation's public school systems which are critical in providing educational opportunities for all. At the same time, it is important to support those parents who have a desire to provide a secure academic education for their children but in a faith oriented setting.
It is my belief that the tuition tax credit should be available to all, no matter what their race, color or national origin.

And make no mistake: the public school system will and must continue to remain the backbone of our nation's education system. However, 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 in a school for one reason or another, parents should have the opportunity to move their child to what may be a better setting. And the federal government should help-not stand in the way.

To truly make good on our promise that "No Child is Left Behind," ensuring that Catholic Schools are included in this national promise brings us closer to achieving this important goal. A child is a child, regardless of which school system they are enrolled. The children enrolled in Catholic, private and rabbinical schools deserve nothing less that our full support.

I urge my colleagues to support the Education, Achievement and Opportunity Act.

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