Senate Approves Bill On Education-Savings Accounts

By Joetta L. Sack — March 08, 2000 2 min read

The Senate passed a bill to expand education-savings accounts late last week, forwarding an election-year priority for Republicans that faces a firewall of resistance from the White House.

Read the Education Savings Account and School Excellence Act of 1999 bill summary.

The chamber passed the measure 61-37 on March 2, and the Republican-controlled House is expected to consider it later this year. But President Clinton has vetoed similar legislation twice in the past two years, and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley has urged him to do so again if the need arises.

Under the bill, S 1134, families could contribute up to $2,000 a year to an education-savings account that would earn tax- free interest. Parents could draw on the account for a wide array of K-12 and higher education expenses, including private school tuition, uniforms, books, or other supplies.

Currently, families can contribute up to $500 a year to such accounts for some higher education expenses.

Proponents of the measure say it is a good way to return part of the budget surplus back to families.

“If we cannot cut taxes now for education, when can we ever cut them?” Sen. William V. Roth Jr., the Delaware Republican who chairs the Finance Committee and is a chief sponsor of the legislation, asked during floor debate. “This education legislation is precisely what the American income tax surplus should be used for—American families.”

But Democrats countered that the proposal would spend the surplus prematurely, and divert money away from public education programs and Social Security.

“Let’s eat our spinach before we have our ice cream party,” said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.

Priorities Debated

As part of the savings account legislation, the Senate approved an amendment that would give teachers tax credits for the out-of-pocket money they spend on classroom supplies.

The Senate rejected two Clinton priorities: money for school construction and authorization to continue funding to hire 100,000 new teachers and reduce class sizes. The latter initiative was allocated $1.3 billion for fiscal 2000 but has never been given permanent funding authority.

Democratic attempts to reallocate the funds designated for the education-savings accounts toward special education, professional development for teachers, and school technology programs also failed.

During the three-day debate, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee postponed debate on its Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill, in part so senators could focus on the debate on savings accounts.

A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2000 edition of Education Week as Senate Approves Bill On Education-Savings Accounts