Tax Bill Could Hand DeVos First Major School Choice Victory


U.S. President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy Devos pose for photographs with members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's champion University of Virginia men's tennis team in the East Room of the White House November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. The White House welcomed athletes representing universities and colleges from across the country to meet Trump who congratulated them on their NCAA victories in sports like lacrosse, bowling, gymnastics, golf, rowing and others.

The GOP tax plan could hand the Trump administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos their first major school choice victory.

As it stands, the brokered deal between House and Senate Republicans, which is slated for a final vote sometime next week, includes language that would allow individuals to use 529 savings accounts – currently reserved for college-related expenses – to also cover expenses at K-12 private schools, including religious schools.

“Happy with the addition of the 529 piece in the bill,” DeVos told the Associated Press on Thursday after a higher education summit hosted by the Education Department. “But beyond that, I know that this is like sausage making, so I am looking forward to the results and to a successful outcome.”

Indeed, final passage of the tax package is not given, as a handful of Senate Republicans have voiced concerns over various aspects of the bill. But should Republican leadership wrangle the numbers needed, it would hand DeVos her first legislative win.

The provision, which was included in the original version of the House tax bill but only added to the Senate bill after an amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was adopted upon a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, would be a major victory for DeVos, the billionaire private school choice advocate who had thus far been shut down in attempts to pursue the administration’s top education priority.

Another provision in the tax plan that could have major implications for K-12 education relates to the state and local tax deduction, sometimes called the SALT deduction. Language in the newly brokered proposal would allow taxpayers to choose a property tax deduction or a deduction for state and local income taxes, up to $10,000 in either case.

The current tax code’s state and local tax deduction is claimed by around 44 million taxpayers, allowing them to write off payments made for state and local taxes and thus providing an indirect federal subsidy to state and local governments.

The deduction encourages state and local governments to levy higher taxes. That connects to K-12 education, as up to 90 percent of school budgets are funded by state and local governments. Several education groups worry eliminating part of the deduction would undermine local government funding and, as a result, reduce the resources available for public schools.

The National Education Association had estimated that the House’s original pitch to allow individuals to write off up to $10,000 in property taxes, would result in roughly $250 billion in cuts to public education over the next 10 years.

Notably, the brokered tax plan excludes language in the original House proposal that would have instituted a tax on graduate school tuition waivers.


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