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From Arizona to Alabama: Ranking the Country's Education Tax-Credit Laws

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Arizona and Florida have the strongest education tax-credit scholarship programs in the country while Alabama's law is the weakest according to a ranking released today by the Center for Education Reform, a school choice advocacy and research group.

The Bethesda, Md.-based CER assigned letter grades to the 14 states that have enacted education tax-credit laws, which allow businesses or individuals to claim tax-credits for donations made to approved scholarship organizations, grading them based primarily on how well funded each program is and how many students they serve.

"Too often states create their policies in a little bit of a vacuum," said Brian Backstrom, a CER senior policy advisor and the report's author. He hopes the rankings will help policymakers reform current laws and draft those yet to be written. "This tool gives them the ability to frame it against the existing laws to see if it's a strong law or if they need to change things before they adopt."

The grading broke down as follows:

  • A states: Arizona and Florida
  • B states: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia and New Hampshire 
  • C states: Iowa, South Carolina, Louisana, and Oklahoma
  • D states: Rhode Island and Kansas
  • F states: Alabama

[UPDATE: In an earlier version of this story and in the CER report, New Hampshire's grade was reported as a C but the center today said it had made a mistake: The Granite State should have gotten a B rating.]

Arizona and Florida received A grades in part because they have awarded all the tax credits available under their scholarship programs and have a system in place to automatically increase the number of available tax-credit scholarships next year.

Other markers of a strong tax-credit law, according to CER's metrics, are those that are open to all students, allow participating private schools to keep their autonomy, and permit both individuals and businesses to receive tax credits for their donations.

The requirements for participating students and private schools in Alabama's law earned the state the only F grade on the score card, even though the 2013 law is currently stuck in legal limbo and hasn't been implemented yet. 

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