Thursday, February 2, 2023

GOP Proposes Federal School Voucher (Again)

Here we go again. It's a voucher bill-- the tax credit scholarship variety-- proposed in the House of Representatives.

H.R. 531 was introduced on January 26 by Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-3). Smith's story includes an episode where he was a child running a snow cone stand "and he realized at a young age what overly restrictive government policies can do to American businesses." He's a graduate of Liberty University, a member of the Tea Party Caucus, and an election denier

I won't lie--getting tired going up and down these steps

The bill has 26 co-sponsors, including Elise Stefanik, Jim Jordan, Virginia Foxx, and my representative, Mike Kelly. 

We don't have a text for the bill yet, but we do have a title

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a credit against tax for charitable donations to nonprofit organizations providing education scholarships to qualified elementary and secondary students.

And we have lots of pretty language to sell it, even if some of it is non-sequitorial.

"Parents – not government – should always have the final say in what kind of education their child receives, no matter where they live or their socioeconomic status," says Rep. Smith, who does not go on to say that this is why public education should be fully funded, nor does he go on to call for an end to exclusionary rules for admission to private and charter schools.

"We must give parents and children every opportunity to pursue the education that is best for them and that puts them on the best path forward from day one," says Rep. Kelly, who also does not call for more funding for public ed and less discrimination in private ed.

“Parents deserve the right to make the best educational decision for their child, regardless of income,” says Dr/Sen Bill Cassidy.

"In America, a child’s race, income, or zip code should never determine the quality of their education," said Rep. Owens. "School choice works because it puts students over systems and empowers parents to choose the academic options that best fit their child's unique needs."

And on and on. Children should have quality education, no matter where they are or how wealthy their family, which is absolutely correct but, I would argue, does not lead naturally to the conclusion "therefor we should give a few of them a chance to choose other schools, provided those schools will accept them." Nor is anyone on this bill going to acknowledge the research that says plainly that vouchers do not deliver quality education to the few students they serve. 

The bill appears to be a re-offering of last year's bill by the same name, offered then by Rep. Jackie Walorsky, an Indiana representative who was tragically killed in a car accident last August. 

The bill offers $10 million in tax credits; in other words, contribute to a "scholarship (aka voucher) organization" and get out of paying taxes to the IRS. It's an echo of Betsy DeVos's failed Education Freedom pitch. The appeal is supposed to be that this isn't government spending, because the government never gets its hands on the money, but the tax credits still leave a $10 million hole in the budget. It's the same sort of arrangement that the courts in Kentucky threw out last year.

As Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center told me last year, “Why not take the $10 billion per year tax expenditure that this bill's authors want to put into these neovouchers and put the money toward educational interventions that have actually been shown to help children, like high-quality preschool, class-size reduction, community schools, and intensive reading and math interventions and tutoring?”

In addition to a bunch of voucher money, the bill supporters promise that it will follow the new trend in allowing private schools and other education vendors who hope to benefit from this money to discriminate and conduct business as they wish. Says the press release:

Uses a limited government approach with respect to federalism, thus avoiding mandates on states, localities, and school districts.

That is undoubtedly good news to some of the bill's endorsers, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Home School Legal Defense Association, Agudath Israel, and Association of Christian Schools International, as well as the usual folks like Betsy DeVos's American Federation for Children, Jeb Bush's Excel in Education, and Heritage Action. Plus the ironically named Invest in Education Coalition, which, like the rest of these groups, is supporting doing the opposite of investing in education by pushing a program that proposes not to spend money bringing quality and opportunity to education, but to tap tax dollars to support private schools and so spend less on public schools.

This will be the third time in recent memory that this idea has failed on the federal level. But hey-- at least it made some press for School Choice Week. The bill is currently hanging out with the Ways and Means committee, as well as Education and the Workforce. May it never emerge to see the light of day again.

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