Act helps give families access to high-quality schools

Published Feb. 15, 2013

Growing up in Miami and Las Vegas, I was fortunate to attend multiple public schools where I received a quality education that would serve as a solid foundation for my career in law and public service.

The safe, quality educational environments I was exposed to in my youth ensured that my academic and social needs were being adequately addressed, and provided comfort to my family that I was safe and cared for during the school day, while I learned important lessons.

We did not have to worry about an unsafe student population or disruptive learning environments, and I was blessed to not require additional resources to keep up with kids in my grade although I confess not always being the most motivated student.

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren in our country are not as fortunate as I was. These children are being failed by our nation's broken public school system, and they and their parents deserve the freedom and flexibility of school choice. There is perhaps no greater symbol of failure in our education system and our society than the worried faces of parents sending their kids off to a failing school because they don't have the liberty to choose a better, safer school.

While some students may be lucky enough to attend high-quality public charter schools in their areas, a private school education has become unattainable for the majority of low-income and middle-class families. It's too difficult for parents in today's economic environment to incur the financial burden of paying tuition at a private school, forcing parents to bypass better and safer education options.

Further, because of our nation's fiscal crisis, private schools may not be able to distribute a high number of institutionally funded scholarships to children. The result is a large number of students and families yearning for the opportunity of gaining a better education at a high-performing private school that will adequately prepare them to compete in a 21st century global economy.

To ensure that more American children receive that opportunity, I have introduced the Educational Opportunities Act, to create a new federal tax credit for individuals and corporations to help families pay for expanded educational opportunities. The Educational Opportunities Act will empower parents by allowing their children in grades K-12 to receive a scholarship to be used toward private school tuition and related expenses.

During my Senate campaign, I ran on a platform of ideas that included a proposal to improve school choice through a tax credit. The Educational Opportunities Act actualizes this idea by allowing individuals or corporations to give as much money as they would like to a qualified, nonprofit Scholarship Granting Organization. In turn, individuals will receive a $4,500 federal tax credit ($2,250 for married individual filers), and corporations will get a federal tax credit of up to $100,000.

The Scholarship Granting Organization will be responsible for granting scholarships to eligible students for qualified expenses, and the legislation imposes necessary safeguards to ensure that students are receiving a high-quality private school education that is financially and academically accountable.

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The Educational Opportunities Act draws largely on the success of Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which has expanded and improved school choice options in our state. Other proven school choice initiatives, such as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, have shown real gains on the return on investment in children's education through private school scholarships.

By affording students and their families greater educational choices, including high-quality private education, the Educational Opportunities Act will be a strong step toward improving elementary and secondary education options in our country.

Marco Rubio, a Republican, represents Florida in the U.S. Senate. This essay is exclusive in Florida to the Tampa Bay Times.