Trent Franks is a second-term congressman from Arizona who has been CEO of an oil and gas exploration company and executive director of the Arizona Family Research Institute, a Focus on the Family state affiliate. Married for 24 years, he is a member of North Phoenix Baptist Church and was a member of the Arizona House of Representatives; in 1997 he authored and led to passage the Arizona Scholarship Tax Credit Bill.
His Arizona program allows taxpayers in that state to receive up to a $500 dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit when they make private, voluntary contributions to charities that use at least 90 percent of the money to provide private scholarships for children in Arizona to attend the school of their parents' choice. Since 1997, Arizona taxpayers have made 120,000 donations, and this year the program is likely to raise $30 million for scholarships.
Even more impressive, over 24,000 scholarship-receiving students are attending a school of their parents' choice this year. Rep. Franks says that "even the poorest child now becomes royalty in the system. In the past, only wealthy parents could afford their children such an opportunity."
Rep. Franks, 47, now works out of his small office in the Longworth Building just south of the Capitol, where a bust of Lincoln, a small statuette titled "Jesus with Children," and a simple wood carving with the word "PRAY" are on display; one corner has a statuette of Jesus talking with a mother who has aborted her child.
The congressman's goal is to give states incentives to follow Arizona's example. Only two other states now have scholarship tax credits. In Florida, corporations can transfer up to 75 percent of their corporate income tax liability to nonprofit Scholarship Funding Organizations; currently, over 30,000 parents have applied for a scholarship for their children. Pennsylvania also has a scholarship tax credit for businesses.
But the Children's Hope Act, for which Rep. Franks has attracted nearly 70 co-sponsors, tells state legislators that if they enact a scholarship tax credit of $250 or more, all residents of their state will be eligible to take part in an additional federal tax credit. The additional federal tax credit is only $100 ($200 for joint returns) and only for those individuals contributing to organizations that distribute at least half of their scholarships to low-income children, but that's what Rep. Franks believes will get some state legislatures moving.
He accurately points out that a dollar-for-dollar tax credit is much more of an incentive than a 10 percent to 38 percent deduction. A tax credit is also better than a voucher, in that vouchers require governments to distribute money that already has come in; with tax credits, officials never get their hands on the funds and have far less opportunity to attach strings. Tax credit funding of scholarships to religious as well as secular schools is clean sailing constitutionally, since parents and not officials are making the educational decisions.
That's why conservative pillar Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation praises the Children's Hope Act: It provides "a powerful incentive that encourages the principal reform effort to be undertaken at the state and local level rather than a sweeping master plan whose purse strings will be controlled at the federal level by bureaucrats cloistered in offices at the Department of Education. Furthermore, because the scholarships are delivered to parents, it is they who have full power to choose the school their child attends."
The Children's Hope Act now has support from the GOP House leadership but opposition as well from legislators, including some Republicans, who are sour on school choice. Others are concerned about the federal deficit, but the estimated cost of $200 million over the first three years of the plan is, sadly, chicken feed in Washington these days-and it could readily be offset by the slaughter of even one of the educational turkeys that federal officials keep on feeding.
Rep. Franks doesn't mince words when he speaks about the failure of conventional schooling: "The American educational system is one of the last experiments in socialism left on earth and, on its present course, it will take its place in the succession of socialist wreckages that litter the highway of human history." He tells those fighting for historic educational reform, "The councils of eternity will deem your efforts worthwhile."