The Trump Administration’s effort to bolster school choice has found new life through H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, introduced on November 2.
Originally in President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, the Administration’s proposal to use $1 billion of Title I funding for school choice was not funded by Congressional appropriators from both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate versions of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies funding bills.
Nevertheless, the Administration continues to prioritize school choice and has found a new angle for its top K-12 education priority. H.R. 1 would expand section 529 college savings accounts to be used for K-12 expenses of up to $10,000 annually, including for the cost of private and religious schools.
Tax reform is an uncommon avenue for education policymaking, as the last major tax overhaul occurred over 30 years ago; but, the recent effort has revived hope for some school choice advocates. Others are wary that using 529 accounts does not go far enough to assist low-income families with children attending failing schools.
Some conservative education advocates are critical because they believe if enacted, the policy would only help wealthy families. Mike Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute reacted, “If we are going to use scarce resources to advance school choice, we should do it for poor and working-class kids, not for families who can already afford private school tuition.”
The House began debating tax reform in the Committee on Ways and Means on November 6 and the Senate is poised to introduce its bill later in the week.
At this point in the process, tax bill details remain fluid as the GOP moves toward an initiative that can garner support spanning the wide spectrum of the party. Striking the balance of finding a way to offer school choice to America’s families without reaching further into the federal coffers may prove tricky. Where school choice will shake out in negotiations remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the Administration is committed to seeing its priority come to fruition.