Proposals for tuition tax credits continue to generate disagreement among religious bodies. The tax credits would benefit parents who send their children to nonpublic schools, including religious schools.

Religious groups with a strong involvement in private education—such as Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews—usually support such tax relief. Groups that have fewer schools—such as United Methodists and Southern Baptists—have objected to the proposed legislation, saying it endangers public schools and violates the principle of the separation of church and state. President Reagan supports tuition tax credits. His Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, opposes such aid.

The Roman Catholic Church, which has the largest parish-school system with an enrollment of 2.97 million, has the most at stake in the tuition tax credit fight. A recent report by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) concluded that “the current sources of financial support for Catholic schools are not adequate to maintain them in the future.” Catholic school enrollment has declined since its peak school year of 1964–65. Meanwhile, tuition costs have risen 10 percent annually in the past decade.

With diminished parish and diocesan subsidies, “tax credits could provide new hope and stimulus in an orderly transition … to a revenue package reflecting more equitably an involvement of all interested parties,” the NCEA says.

The National Council of Churches (NCC), representing 31 mainline Protestant and Orthodox denominations, opposes tuition tax credits. The NCC says such tax relief would “drastically endanger public education by further fragmenting general education in the United States.”

However, some Protestant bodies support the proposed tax relief. Lutheran denominations enrolled 288,867 students in their schools last year, 2.4 percent more than the previous year. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), which enrolled 201,500 of those students, supports federal and state aid to private schools. Tuition tax credits “could benefit many, especially the poor,” suggests H. James Boldt, an LCMS school official.

The American Lutheran Church (ALC), enrolling 33,800 pupils, supports tuition tax credits in principle, but not the pending Reagan administration proposals. “The legislation supports middle-income families rather than lower income,” says Glen Bracht, the ALC’s director of Christian day schools.

Recent years have witnessed also the emergence of a fast-growing evangelical and fundamentalist school sector. The Association of Christian Schools International (ASCI), which represents many of the evangelical schools, reports an enrollment growth from 220,001 in 1979–80 to 364,000 last year.

ACSI executive director Paul Kienel calls tuition tax credits a “mixed blessing.” While ACSI is on record in support of the idea, such “legislation has the potential of becoming a major vehicle for the regulation of Christian schools,” Kienel wrote in a recent newsletter. “It may be difficult for our schools to retreat from the comfort of tuition tax credits if future public policies force spiritual compromise upon us.”

Among Jews, attitudes on tuition tax credits range from strong support to outright rejection. But support is growing, particularly among the Orthodox. Day schools—enrolling about 103,600 students—account for 28 to 29 percent of Jewish educational programs.

Since Jewish day schools usually are not synagogue-operated, tuition costs strain many family budgets, says Steven Prager, director of Agudath Israel, a New York-based advocacy group for Orthodox Jewish schools.

Tuition costs are increasing in Jewish high schools, where the average tuition has risen from $2,160 in the 1982–83 school year to $3,000 last year. This has led many in the Jewish day-school movement to join the battle for tuition tax credits. Both Agudath Israel and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America support tuition tax credits.

The issue remains a source of dispute within Conservative Judaism. The Solomon Schechter Schools, with an enrollment of 15,000, have endorsed the idea, while the schools’ parent body, the United Synagogue of America, has “disfavored” government aid to private schools.

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing Reform Judaism, opposes any form of governmental aid to religious schools.


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