June 2, 2017


The Advocate, June 2017

By Sasha Pudelski, assistant director, policy & advocacy, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

The Latest on Federal School Choice Policy

A lot of education policy discussions on and off Capitol Hill are focused on the ways in which the Trump Administration can advance funding for private schools and the privatization of our education system. Should they propose a tuition tax credit scheme like the ones that exist in 17 states to be included in tax reform? Should they try and promote privatization schemes targeted at specific groups of students (military-connected and Native American to name just two). Should they expand programs like the D.C. voucher program and urge the adoption of voucher programs across the country? The answer I’m betting on is that DeVos and her team throw all these options against the wall and sees what sticks. For AASA and our partners in the National Coalition for Public Education that means we will have a very busy summer.

The first item up per President Trump’s recently released FY18 budget is to try and convince Congress to spend money on new school choice programs that states will create and manage. States can opt to compete for new federal dollars to start a traditional voucher program (or other voucher scheme) or even build-off the current voucher programs they may have. The Department has indicated they would be willing to spend up to $250 million on this new Race-to-the-Top style competition although some money would be set-aside to study the voucher programs and their success in connecting students with new private school options. It’s not clear what the funding prospects are for this program. Democrats will never agree to it, but with so much at stake (Medicaid and CHIP funding, Planned Parenthood, SNAP) even they must appreciate this is going to be a harder-to-negotiate budget deal. And $250 million isn’t a ton of money.

As for a much bigger and bolder proposal, there has long been speculation that the Trump administration will push to include a “tuition tax credit” program (modeled after Florida’s program) into the proposed tax reform or tax cuts that Republicans are working diligently to advance later this year. In May, AASA and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy issued a scathing report looking at the federal legislative proposals introduced thus far as well as state tuition tax credit policies. We studied the current federal proposal introduced by school-choice proponents in the House and Senate which would provide a 100 percent tax credit (up to $4,500 per year for individuals or $100,000 for corporations) for donations to voucher nonprofits. We also looked at the state landscape where we uncovered that the seventeen states with tax credit voucher schemes divert more than $1 billion per year toward private schools via school voucher credits. For taxpayers in nine states with current dollar-for-dollar credits, the addition of a new federal tax credit would allow them to make $2 for every $1 contributed to a voucher program. Whether the Administration’s efforts are stymied by fears by conservative leaders that a federal tax credit scheme runs counter to principles of federalism remains to be seen. A federal tuition tax credit would clearly create new opportunities for corporations and successful investors to earn huge profits by transferring public funding to private schools.

Finally, there are threats of a micro-targeted voucher programs that would be attached to larger bills (like the National Defense Authorization Act) or that would seek to prey on a population of students that are not as well-supported by Congress and public education allies. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, is also pushing to eliminate the Impact Aid program and instead give children of active-duty military an education savings account, so they can attend private school. We are also awaiting legislation to be introduced that would create a federally funded Education Savings Account program for students who attend schools managed by the Bureau of Indian Education. To say the BIE is struggling would be an understatement. Many analysts are unclear of how to keep the Bureau afloat amidst horrific underfunding and understaffing that has led to widespread mismanagement. However, public school advocates will need to stand ready to defend the autonomy of the BIE program, Impact Aid and other attempts to privatize substantial federal education funding streams. And if we’ve learned anything from state policy trends it is that voucher proponents initial attempt to introduce a small voucher program focused on one narrow population of students can quickly lead to vouchers for every student.

As leaders of public school systems, we must defend against these attacks to privatize K-12 education. We hope you’re following our advocacy team on twitter and reading our blog so you can stay up-to-date on this looming Congressional fight for public schools and the students we serve. 

Leave a comment
Name *
Email *