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The motto of school voucher advocates in Missouri must be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, because big money donors to state legislators who favor vouchers have already given more campaign contributions–fourteen months before the elections!–than they did in 2004 and 2006. 

In 2004, $385,340 was donated.  Last year, even though it was an off year election, contributions went up; pro-voucher candidates received $403,840.  So far in this election cycle, $483,850 has already been given.  Of course, a major reason the contributions are so high this cycle is that between January and June there were no caps on contributions. 

Indeed, now that the Supreme Court has put the kibosh on that travesty, Jay Nixon is returning all his over-the-limit contributions.  But the big honcho in the pro-voucher camp, Rex Sinquefield (pictured),  filed a legal argument with the Supreme Court asking that none of his donations be returned to him.  His brief, almost but not quite, said:  I bought ’em fair and square.  Okay, what he actually said was that his political groups gave money early in the cycle because that’s when it helps the most, and he doesn’t want it back.  For whatever that argument is worth.

Which brings us to Sinquefield’s two groups:  All Children Matter and the infamous Show Me Institute.

All Children Matter exists in only ten states, and we’re among the lucky ones to be targeted.  Most of the money for it comes from out-of-state, with less than a third coming from actual Missourians.  Make that Missourian, singular, as in Rex Sinquefield.  Ninety-five percent of the in-state contributions come from him.

The Show Me Institute, on the other hand, is based in St. Louis.  The ProVote website tells us that:

Their work “is rooted in the American tradition of free markets and individual liberty” and “seeks to move beyond the 20th-century mindset that every problem has a government.”

These groups and their legislative supporters want Missouri tax money going to private schools.  They have a problem, though:  the Missouri constitution forbids that.  So they have come up with an ingenious shell game to circumvent the law.  It’s called tax credits, and here’s how it works.  Say I want to send my child to a Catholic parochial school.  If a tax credit law were passed, I could get the Missouri taxpayers to foot most of the bill if I donated to a scholarship fund at that school.  I would give the fund $1000, and–this is if the pro-voucher people could ever get the law they want passed–the state would tell me that I get an eighty percent tax credit.  In other words, I would get to take $800 of that $1000  off my Missouri taxes.  Then the school conveniently would happen to award that $1000 scholarship to my child!  Can you imagine such a coincidence?  What are the odds?

That way, you see, Missouri wouldn’t have to give any money at all to a private school.  The state would still be out $800, but technically it wouldn’t be supporting a religious school.  So far, each attempt to pass this law has been resoundingly defeated.  Thank goodness, because if it had passed, it would have cost Missouri $40 million dollars this year. 

A few of the legislators voting for this shell game are doing so in good conscience.  Rodney Hubbard, Talibdin El-Amin, and Ted Hoskins, for example, are concerned about the plight of students in the St. Louis City Schools.  Most of the legislators who voted for it, however, are hypocrites.  They claim to be worried about poor children stuck in bad schools, but almost without exception they voted for Blunt’s Medicaid cuts. 

And anyway, the poor children aren’t very likely to be helped by these tax credits.  Even if parents of children in inner city schools could afford their share of the tuition, the religious schools reject two out of three children who apply.  They take the cream of the crop. 

No, the push for tuition tax credits is aimed at helping the affluent.  Erlaine Eltoomi mentioned at the recent West County Dems meeting that some churches have contrived another back door voucher plan.  Impatient that no tuition tax credits have been passed, some churches are declaring that any money a parishioner gives above a certain amount can be directed toward tuition at that church’s school.  Church donations, you see, are tax deductible.  That’s one more reason I’d favor doing away with tax deductions for church donations.

Look, if we’re going to get stuck with an extra forty million bill for education, let’s invest that money in the public schools, the poorest ones, and see if we can actually solve some of the problems.

Thanks go to Fired Up! for the photo of Rex Sinquefield.