Given the chance, would you be willing to improve a student's life by forgoing one happy meal at McDonalds? Or by passing up one video rental from Blockbuster? If you answered yes, keep reading.
Five dollars is all it costs to make a child's dream come true under Arizona's revolutionary scholarship program.
Here's how the program works. Arizona law gives taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar tax credit worth up to $500 for donations made to charities that fund private school scholarships. That donation will come back to you like a boomerang: $500 contributed before December 31, 2002 will be fully reimbursed when you file taxes in the spring. Joint-filing married couples can donate as much as $625.
As long as you're paying state income taxes, even by way of employer withholding, you can benefit under the program. Your contribution will be pooled with other donations and used to help a needy child attend a private school.
Is there a catch? Well, I guess so. Remember the $5 I mentioned? That's what you'd be likely to earn in interest if you decided not to participate and kept that $500 in the bank between now and April. But isn't changing a child's life a much better investment?
Jose Quizos's family thinks so. Last year, Jose was struggling at his local public school. With no discipline in the classroom, and with violence rampant on the playground, Jose's family watched in horror as Jose transformed from a "sweet little boy" into "a rebellious thug." But his parents didn't have any options.
They simply couldn't afford to change neighborhoods or pay private school tuition. But that changed thanks to Arizona School Choice Trust and a tax credit scholarship. Now, "little Josesito" is thriving in private school. His family is confident that he "will make the correct choices in life and that someday he will reach his dream of being an aerospace engineer."
Arizona needs more aspiring aerospace engineers and fewer rebellious thugs. Jose is just one of nearly 20,000 students benefiting from Arizona's scholarship program.
Last year, 45,000 taxpayers made donations totaling nearly $24 million for scholarships. That may seem like a lot, but it's only the tip of the iceberg.
Thousands of needy children still wait for scholarships.
For a needy student, a scholarship can mean the difference between a lifetime of learning and crippling illiteracy.
Harvard University researchers have found that at-risk students who received scholarships to attend private school outperform their peers who remain in public school.
There's even strong evidence that school choice scholarship programs encourage public schools to improve - like any business, even the worst-performing schools respond and provide better services when faced with the threat of losing students to competitor schools.
If you want to make a difference in a child's life, act now.
To receive the full tax credit when you file your taxes this spring, you need to make your donation by December 31, 2002.
So get to a computer and visit www.ArizonaDream.org. There, you can view a menu of scholarship organizations, make your donation, and print the tax forms you need to receive reimbursement.
If you can't part with $500 for four months, contribute what you can afford. Every dollar counts, because contributions are pooled to fund scholarships.
What can you afford to give: $200, $100, or $25? Remember, you will get that money back in April.
And your decision to contribute to help Arizona children receive better educational opportunities is almost as important as your monetary contribution.
Once you've made a donation, don't stop there. Seize another opportunity to make a difference.
Call your friends. Give a copy of this article to your neighbors.
E-mail your coworkers with the link: www.ArizonaDream.org. Let them know this is their opportunity to spread the holiday cheer by helping a child's dream come true. Not a bad deal for just $5.
--Dan Lips is president of Arizona Dream Foundation and an associate scholar with the Goldwater Institute.