Original URL:  http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/1210ruelas10Z7.html

Doing the math on the school tax credit program
Arizona Republic
Dec. 10, 2003 12:00 AM

It's really no surprise that most of the education tax credits end up going to schools in the high-dollar areas of town. The system is set up that way.

It's supposed to benefit schools with wealthy students. It is specifically designed to ignore schools in areas of high poverty.

The program, which has been in effect since 1998, allows parents to take a tax credit for fees or donations they make to public schools.

Through the end of the year, every public school will try to hop on this gravy train, pushing the program as a way to benefit students while not actually costing the taxpayer any money.

But this is a much easier pitch to make in Scottsdale, Gilbert and Mesa than it is in parts of west or south Phoenix.

That's because this tax-credit program works only if you make enough money to actually pay taxes. Your donation is taken off the money owed to the state - either reducing the amount on the check you write out or increasing your refund.

But a lot of families who send children to Phoenix schools don't earn that much. To them, the tax credit is meaningless.

That's why a school like Garfield Elementary raised only $2,150 in donations for the 2002 tax year. According to U.S. census numbers, almost half of the children in the Phoenix Elementary district live below the poverty line, meaning that their parents don't pay taxes.

Meaning their "tax-credit" donation would simply be a donation.

Compare that to the top grosser of tax credits. Desert Mountain High School took in $288,350 last year, according to the Arizona Department of Revenue. Desert Mountain is in the Scottsdale Unified School District. Only 5 percent of children in that district live below the poverty line.

Scottsdale Unified has two other top-earning schools: Chaparral High with $198,742 and Mountainside Middle School with $138,686.

These schools, single-handedly, beat the total for entire districts in Phoenix.

The Alhambra Elementary School District took in $120,654, split among 15 schools.

The Roosevelt Elementary School District took in $92,700, split among 21 schools.

The Creighton Elementary School District took in $77,943, split among nine schools.

Each of those districts has more than one-third of its children living below the poverty line, which for a family of four is $18,400.

Meaning not only do they lack the incentive that wealthier parents have to donate, but, more than likely, they don't have the money at all.

And, thanks to the state's system of tax credits that siphons revenue out of the general fund, their children's schools don't have that money, either.

Reach Ruelas at (602) 444-8473 or richard.ruelas@arizonarepublic.com.