$1 million in tax credits a major boost to Kyrene schools

By Jonathan Cooper

Kyrene schools collected more than $1 million in tax-deductible donations last year, faring comparatively well against similarly sized districts state-wide, according to district officials.

Of that money, slightly more than half, $521,533, was directed to Kyrene Corridor schools, which can use the money for after-school clubs, field trips and other extracurricular activities.

The money comes as a result of a 1997 Arizona law, which allows individuals to deduct from their state taxes up to $200 in donations to a state-funded school. Married couples filing their taxes jointly can deduct up to $250 per year.

Scott Shelberg, assistant principal at Kyrene de los Niños, said the tax credit money is vital to some of the extracurricular activities and field trips that all Kyrene schools offer.

“(The tax credit funds) have made some possibilities, particularly at our school, that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise,” he said, listing a handful of clubs and activities that his students are able to take advantage of because of tax credit dollars. 

“It’s paying to extend a child’s experience.”

One tax-credit benefactor, the Quest Club, aids students who, “for economic purposes, may not have the same opportunities to further their education beyond high school,” Shelberg said. The tax credit money is used to subsidize activities for the students and their mentors.

Another organization, the Trendsetters Club, focuses on establishing “a sense of service into their school experience,” Shelberg said. The students identify specific needs both on and off campus and work to address those needs.

“It’s all in the name of trying to help them have a respect for the community they live in and what the needs are there and trying to give back, even at a young age,” Shelberg said.

While most of Kyrene’s $1 million in 2004 tax credit money comes from the district’s own parents, the program is open to all state taxpayers, and Kyrene has had some success in bringing in money from outside the district, including contributions from community members without dependent children.

Niños increased its tax credit revenue in 2004, thanks to a unique partnership with a local church. Members of Mission del Sol Presbyterian Church directed their tax credit donations to the Niños Trendsetters Club after learning about the program through a local volunteer.

While the tax credit program has been criticized as disproportionately benefiting wealthy schools, Shelberg, whose school accommodates a number of “economically disadvantaged” students, said the program is vital.

“Whether you’re talking about the Sonoran Desert Museum, or the Phoenix Zoo, or some of the different museums that are around the Valley here, sometimes our kids do not have the financial means in order to experience those things with their parents,” he said. 

“Sometimes their parents are working two jobs; sometimes their parents aren’t working at all and just can’t afford that stuff. This makes that possible.”