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A $10,000 tax deduction pushed by Gov. Scott Walker is worth hundreds of dollars to Wisconsin taxpayers who send their kids to private schools. A $10,000 tax deduction pushed by Gov. Scott Walker is worth hundreds of dollars to Wisconsin taxpayers who send their kids to private schools.

A $10,000 tax deduction pushed by Gov. Scott Walker is worth hundreds of dollars to Wisconsin taxpayers who send their kids to private schools.

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 31, 2014

Scott Walker gave $10,000 private school tax break to millionaires, AFL-CIO says

In a mass-mail piece headlined "Falling Behind," the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO contends that under Wisconsin’s Republican governor, working families have suffered at the expense of the well-to-do.

The four-page flier goes on to make a number of attacks, including this one:

"What’s really troubling is that Scott Walker has given a $10,000 tax deduction to millionaires who send their kids to exclusive private schools. Some have asked why Walker is giving a tax break to millionaires who can afford tuition costs rather than investing in the children who are being educated in public schools. Working families are still waiting for an answer."

So, did Walker carve out a $10,000 private-school tax break strictly to benefit millionaires?

What happened

The AFL-CIO hasn’t been alone in decrying the tax measure, adopted as part of the 2013-’15 state budget, which is for students from kindergarten through high school. The Wisconsin Budget Project, part of the liberal Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, criticized it for being larger than the tax deduction available for college tuition.

Meanwhile, the Republican chairman of the state Senate Education Committee praised the tax break because it "might make it easier for parents to afford private school if they feel that is the best option for their children."

Here’s how it works:

Beginning in the 2014 tax year, for tax returns due in April 2015, taxpayers can subtract from their income amounts paid to private schools for tuition and mandatory student fees. The schools can be inside or outside of Wisconsin, although expenses such as room and board can’t be deducted. For each student in kindergarten through eighth grade, the maximum deduction is $4,000; for each student in high school, the maximum is $10,000.

An important point: The deductions are available to any individuals, regardless of income, including millionaires.

Taxpayer impact

The deduction will amount to a state income tax cut for the typical family of up to roughly $240 for each elementary school student and $600 for each high school student, according to a rough calculation by the Legislature's nonpartisan budget office.

Percentage-wise, the savings have a bigger impact on taxpayers with lower incomes, although it wouldn’t be enough by itself for many lower-income families to pay for a private school.

Viewed another way, the state is expected to collect $30 million per year less in tax revenue as a result of the tax break.

The AFL-CIO argues that, in light of cuts Walker made to public school aid with his 2011-’13 budget, the $30 million is yet more money that could be invested in public schools rather than for reducing taxes for people who are arguably on the higher end of the income scale.

The conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute observed, however, that the reduced revenue could be offset if the tax break enticed more students -- about 3,000 -- to move to private schools. That’s because public schools get state taxpayer aid based on how many students they have.

While many private-school students come from wealthier families, many others come from families with more modest incomes.

Before we close, let’s consider one other perspective.

In June 2013, days before the tax break became law, state public schools superintendent Tony Evers declared it "the most generous in the nation." We rated his claim Half True.

We found that in comparison to the five other states that offered either a private school tax deduction, or tax credit, Wisconsin’s tax break is among the most generous -- for parents with multiple children attending a private high school, for example.

But depending on various factors, it's not necessarily more generous than other states.

Our rating

The state AFL-CIO said Walker "has given a $10,000 tax deduction to millionaires who send their kids to exclusive private schools."

There is an element of truth, in that millionaires do benefit from the tax break. But so do taxpayers of other income levels who send their kids to private schools.

We rate the claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, "Falling Behind" direct-mail piece

Email interview, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO spokeswoman Cathy Sherwin, Aug. 22, 2014

Email interview, Gov. Scott Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick, Aug. 22, 2014

Wisconsin Budget Project, "Wisconsin becomes 6th state to add tax break for private school tuition," June 24, 2013

Wisconsin Budget Project, "Generous new tax break for private school tuitition out of line with existing tax benefits," June 12, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tax deduction of up to $10,000 per child in private school added to budget," June 5, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Budget passes by one vote as vouchers take center stage," June 21, 2013

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Wisconsin’s new private school tax break most generous in U.S., state schools superintendent says," June 27, 2013

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, tax and fee modifications memo, Aug. 7, 2013

Wisconsin Rep. Luther Olsen, "Private school tuition tax break," July 16, 2013

Capital Times, "A huge tax break for rich kids at private schools," July 9, 2013

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Scott Walker gave $10,000 private school tax break to millionaires, AFL-CIO says

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