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School Choice Would Get Boost From Proposed Amendments to Senate Tax Bill

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 13, 2017 2 min read
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Two amendments introduced by senators to the GOP tax bill in the Senate could increase access to private school choice.

One amendment states that a “charitable deduction would be allowed for certain qualified tuition and related expenses relating to qualified religious instruction. It’s been introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will consider the GOP-backed tax overhaul legislation. If adopted, the amendment would require an “appropriate offset” in terms of federal revenue, but doesn’t specify what that offset might be.

The other “would add a K-12 education tax credit for corporate and individual contributions to state non-profit organizations who provide scholarships for children in low-income to middle class families.” It’s been introduced by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. If adopted, the amendment would go into effect 60 days of the bill becoming law. It does not provide income limits or ranges for those making contributions.

Supporters of school choice have vigorously advocated this year for a tax-credit scholarship program at the federal level, along the lines of the amendment Scott has introduced. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also favored such programs during her years as a school choice advocate. She’s also pitched other choice initiatives to Congress through President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018, although so far lawmakers have turned their noses up at those specific ideas.

The House tax bill, which that chamber’s Ways and Means Committee approved last week, would also allow savings in 529 plans (up to $10,000 annually) to be used for K-12 expenses, including private school tuition. Right now, 529 plan savings are earmarked for higher education only. The House bill’s provision has backing from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which argues that making 529 plans open to families interested in school choice would increase access to more schools for parents without instituting a new federal program to do so. DeVos also praised the proposed change to 529 plans.

Critics of the 529 school choice provision in the House bill include some choice advocates, who argue that it wouldn’t significantly expand K-12 options for low-income families. Public education advocates, meanwhile, say using tax-advantaged strategies to boost private school choice would unfairly hurt federal funding for public schools.

Photos: Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., talks to reporters in September on Capitol Hill (J. Scott Applewhite/AP).

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