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House panel to begin school tuition tax credit program review Oct. 14

A special House panel will hold the first of three meetings next week to examine whether the state’s private school tuition tax credit program works properly.

Rep. Rick Murphy, a Peoria Republican appointed to chair the Private School Tuition Tax Credit Review Committee, said the goal will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the program, not debate the merits of school choice. He said the committee will be “more utilitarian than ideological.”

The group’s first meeting will be Oct. 14. Murphy, who also chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said it will be “mostly informational” and will include presentations on why the program was created and how it works.

“We need to take a close look and make sure the program is working as intended,” he said.

The tax credit program has been in Arizona law since 1997. Under the program, taxpayers give money to nonprofit charities called school tuition organizations, or STOs for short. STOs give scholarships to children for private school tuition, and the state provides donors a dollar-for-dollar tax credit in exchange for their contribution.

Proponents touted the program as a way to make private education more accessible to students who otherwise couldn’t afford private-school tuitions, although some have questioned if that has been the case.

In July, the East Valley Tribune investigated the program and concluded disadvantaged students have no more access to private schools now than they did when the law was created. The paper also pointed out several areas where a lack of oversight and accountability opens the door for abuse.

Murphy stressed that his committee will focus on hard data to make any recommendations to the full House of Representatives.

“What we need to do is get real data, real information from the STOs – get the actual facts,” he said. “I don’t want to allow the exception to create the rule. I don’t want the overall policy to be driven by the exceptions, if the vast majority are getting it right.”

Other committee members are: Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert; Rep. Jack Brown, D-St. John’s; Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff; and Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria.

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