New report shows how Massachusetts could adopt education savings account program

Editor’s note: This commentary from Tim Benson, a policy analyst in the government relations department of the Heartland Institute, appeared recently on the institute’s website.

A January 2022 white paper from the Pioneer Institute illustrates how a tax-credit funded education savings account program might be the best way forward for pursuing educational reform in Massachusetts.

In Modeling an Education Savings Account for Massachusetts, Pioneer Institute senior fellow Cara Candal argues this type of ESA could possibly make its way around the commonwealth’s incredibly strict anti-Catholic Blaine amendment. The amendment currently bars public funding of faith-based schools, and which was not affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue overturning many of these relics of 19th century prejudice.

The Bay State’s Blaine amendment reads:

“No grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of credit shall be made or authorized by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any infirmary, hospital, institution, primary or secondary school, or charitable or religious undertaking which is not publicly owned and under the exclusive control, order and supervision of public officers or public agents authorized by the Commonwealth or federal authority or both.”

The workaround would be to fund the ESA as if it were a tax-credit scholarship program. Tax-credit scholarship programs allow individuals and businesses to contribute to a non-profit scholarship-granting organization which handles the funds. In return, individuals and businesses would receive a tax credit from the commonwealth that usually matches their contribution dollar-for-dollar.

These donations, not commonwealth funds, would then be used to provide ESA scholarships to families that meet the eligibility requirements and apply for them.

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