Even if you believe public schools are among America’s most important public institutions, you have to give Betsy DeVos credit. She is perfectly consistent and doggedly persistent. Last week she proposed a new $5 billion federal tuition tax credit neo-voucher program. She is determined to privatize the public schools; fortunately she doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
For the NY Times, Erica Green describes DeVos’s pitch: “She called it a ‘bold’ proposal that gives ‘hundreds of thousands of students across the country the power to find the right fit for their education… The biggest winners will be America’s forgotten children, who will finally have choices previously available only for the rich, the powerful and the well-connected.'”
So… what is Betsy proposing in 2919? The Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler explains: “The proposal would authorize a 100 percent credit for contributions to any state-sanctioned scholarship fund, meaning donors could get back their entire donation through their federal taxes… The maximum credit would be set at 10 percent of an individual’s adjusted gross income, or 5 percent of a business’s net taxable income. Overall, the program would be capped at $5 billion a year.”
The thing is that, except for Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama, who are among the proposal’s sponsors in Congress, nobody seems to think DeVos’s new tuition tax credit vouchers are a good idea.
Meckler reports: “A similar federal tax credit was pushed in the first year of the Trump administration as part of the broader tax overhaul. But the overall thrust of the tax overhaul was simplifying the tax code, and the education tax credit would do the opposite. And some conservatives complained then that a federal program could lead to increased federal control over private-school scholarship programs.”
Green reports that Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House Education Committee, rejects the new plan: “House Democrats will not waste time on proposals that undermine public education.”
And Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, says the idea won’t move through Congress: “Secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers and even within her own party… Congress has repeatedly rejected her privatization efforts, and she should expect nothing less here.”
Even people who are usually Betsy DeVos’s partners in promoting marketplace school choice oppose DeVos’s recent proposal. Green describes the concerns of Neal McCluskey, the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the libertarian Cato Institute: “The credit would spur people to demand their states participate, and as more schools benefited from federally connected scholarships, all schools would be financially pressured to use them.”
In a statement released by the Heritage Foundation, director Lindsey Burke and and Heritage senior policy analyst Adam Michel warn: “This could open the door for further education regulations down the road that neutralize the advantages of private education as well as impede future reform efforts. Future administrations could use a federal tax credit scholarship to require that schools adhere to certain admissions and accountability policies. That would mean the federal government could further dictate testing, reporting, academic content, and even bathroom policies for all schools involved. This proposal is also outside of the federal government’s jurisdiction. It would grow, rather than reduce, federal intervention in education.”
In her NY Times report, Green quotes a particularly poignant comment from an organization well versed in the problems public school teachers have been demonstrating across the nation all year: “JoAnn Bartoletti, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, called the proposal ‘particularly tone deaf’ as school leaders across the country struggle to retain teachers who are fed up with low pay and declining work conditions.”
In her analysis of DeVos’s new plan, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reassures readers. As she begins her article and before she even explains DeVos’s new idea for federally underwritten tax credits, Strauss confirms that DeVos’s new program cannot possibly pass Congress: “To be clear, the new legislation has virtually no chance of passing Congress; Democrats now control the House and most of them wouldn’t support it. A similar idea couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm a few years ago when Republicans controlled the House and the Senate.”