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Congressman Trent Franks: A freshman worth watching

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted January 20, 2003

Some old friends like Jesse Helms have left Congress, but last November's election sent some new, committed conservatives to Washington.

One new member that I expect will come to be viewed as a leader is Trent Franks (R), a committed social conservative from Arizona. I have been fortunate to know Trent for many years and find him to be an invigorating thinker. He ran a non-profit think tank in Arizona that was affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Trent also had served in the state House and as head the Arizona Governor's Office of Children in the mid-1980s.

Trent Franks. So new we couldn't find a decent picture of him.

A small business owner, Trent remained active in politics after leaving state government. He is a strong advocate on issues that he cares about. In the mid-1990s, Trent advanced the idea that is changing the course of the debate over school choice.

Thanks to Trent's leadership, Arizona taxpayers are able to receive a tax credit for their donations to school scholarship programs. Those taxpayers who make the full $625 contribution to a scholarship fund receive the money back in full at tax time. Most beneficiaries in Arizona's program are low-income children, but middle-class children also benefit from it.

As Trent told the CATO Institute in September 2001, the Arizona school choice program is "insulated from government intrusion or interference." First; like vouchers, the tax credit program, allows parents to be the ones that are able to choose the school that their child attends. However, unlike vouchers, the tax credit program gives those who are bearing the cost of the education to have full say over where their dollars are going.

As Trent explained it, the scholarship donations are "coming from private individuals, going to private scholarship charities, to go to private scholarships for private individuals to go to the private school of their private choice."

The teachers unions, whose mission it is to perpetuate the status quo of our failing public education system, are understandably appalled that this program is operating, because it truly threatens their monopoly over children's education. They want to teach our children about a world without God, where everything is relative, where nothing is sacred.

As Trent has asserted, the education of our children "is more than just reading, writing and arithmetic." Many parents use the scholarships to send their children to schools that offer religious instruction.

Arizona's tax credit program has faced challenges in court. The National Education Association, in making its argument, essentially argued that any private money is essentially public. But the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case against it, and that was a victory for the parents who are benefiting from the tax credit program.

In its first four years, the Arizona tax credit was able to raise enough money to fund an estimated 21,000 scholarships. Specific schools have created funds and there are statewide scholarship funds too.

Other states have followed suit, trying out their own versions of the Arizona plan.

Pennsylvania, for instance, allows corporations to take a tax credit for donations to non-profit scholarship funds. After three failed attempts at passing school voucher legislation by then-governor Tom Ridge (R-PA), this became the alternative that succeeded.

Trent will be working to take this approach nationally, and knowing his hard-driving style, I expect that we will be hearing more from Trent on this issue during the coming congressional session and on many other issues as well.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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