Ore. lawmaker wants private-school tax credits

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon lawmaker wants to ask voters to allow tax credits to pay for tuition at private and religious schools.

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to take up the idea Thursday, although it's a longshot in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Boosting access to private schools would create more options for parents and improve schools by increasing competition, said Republican Sen. Betsy Close, of Albany. She wants to let individuals and corporations earn a dollar-for-dollar credit against their taxes for contributions to pay for educational expenses, including private-school tuition.

She has proposed a ballot measure asking voters to create an exception to the state constitution's iron-clad ban on using tax money to benefit religious institutions.

"I think more competition makes better schools, whether private or public," Close said.

Critics say the state shouldn't be indirectly funding private schools by allowing tax credits to divert money from state coffers.

Oregon's constitution says, "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any religeous, or theological institution."

Voters have twice rejected watering down that language, said David Fidanque, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which opposes Close's proposal.

"We feel very strongly that keeping the government and religion separate are an important protection for religion as well as for government," Fidanque said.

Individuals could claim tax credits of up to $1,000 per year, and corporations could claim up to $10,000. The money would not go directly to the schools or parents, but would be funneled through new nonprofit organizations.

Close's effort is modeled after a program in Arizona that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

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