Donald Trump’s goal is to eliminate the Department of Education. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to bankrupt public schools. It is taking a Herculean effort for public educators to keep their heads above water. Fortunately, educators are getting some help from Congress. Congress has been steadfast in shutting down DeVos’s proposals because of what they stand for–liberals citing income discrimination and conservatives (the real ones) citing First Amendment violations and executive branch overreach.

On February 28, Secretary DeVos introduced the latest in a long line of proposals that would enhance private, mainly religious, schools and rob the coffers that support neighborhood, public schools. Proposed is a $5 billion federal tax credit to fund scholarships to private, for-profit schools and other private educational programs. If DeVos gets her way, states could opt into a program that provides both individual and corporate donors a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to scholarship programs to assist families pay private education tuition. Her government-funded voucher programs have met with heavy resistance in Congress and this proposal is the most recent twist on the same story to escape constitutional Article I funding responsibilities to check and balance the Article II branch of government.

On the surface it appears that the private institution windfall would help low income families with, not only tuition, but with getting support to enroll in apprenticeships, after-school care, and remedial programs. But, like the voucher incentives that have preceded this tax credit proposal, the calm appearance has riptides rushing below the seemingly inviting surface.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) claims that the five billion bucks full tax credit made available to individuals, who could donate up to ten percent of their adjusted gross income, and corporations that could donate up to five percent of their net taxable income, would “not take one penny from any public school in America.” But, of course, it does. Many donations are no longer tax deductible, according to the year-old tax law regulations. This would put significant deductions back on the table by donating to a public fund to benefit private and religious education. Federal tax revenue would be reduced by the full five billion dollars. That’s tax revenue not collected, ergo, not available to distribute to public schools that are already chronically underfunded.

During the roll-out for Sec. DeVos’s private, for profit school windfall, she emphasized that the funds could be used for the lowest income families to make school choices. Pure snake oil. Although five billion dollars is a lot of money, when spread out over the 50 states and the 90+ percent of families that cannot afford private schooling, the pot-of-gold is not trenchant to fully fund nearly enough scholarships–offering only a stipend leaving additional costs for poor families to co-contribute that they simply do not have. Even if a scholarship covered full tuition, hidden costs for transportation, materials, appropriate/conforming clothing, and the extra time commitment of the commute to a distant private institute eliminates any opportunity for the poorest families to participate. Those children are left out and the only option is to attend the, now even more underfunded, local school.  Remaining up for grabs are unclaimed funds available for more wealthy families to claim yet another tax break and opportunity for a government subsidized private, religious education.

Even more deceitful is Ms. DeVos’s pitch for students with disabilities, whom she calls “forgotten children.” They are “forgotten” only to Ms. DeVos and her ilk who work tirelessly to keep those students out of sight and out of mind so she can continue to give even more money to her donor class of supporters. She encourages families with “forgotten” special needs children to take advantage of these scholarships by attending a for-profit school that may advertise programs aimed at a student’s particular disability. She even offered an example of a student with Down syndrome who had success and graduated from a private school with the assistance of a voucher through an Ohio program. This looks like a tempting dip for an inviting swim, but when the plunge is taken, families most often find an empty pool.

What is not mentioned is that private schools are not required to do what they advertise or follow the provisions of either the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In public schools families have an equal, legally supported advocate role in developing the Individual Education Plan (IEP) for their child. Although private magnet schools advertise specifics, they are neither required to include parent input nor develop an IEP. It is proven time and again that private, for-profit schools, once they have the tuition money in hand, often do not follow through, pay very little attention to individuals who do not conform with what they offer as curriculum, and can, and do, for any reason, expel any child. Families find themselves underserved, frustrated, out in the cold, and seeking other alternatives that often are not available after a short stint in a private school. There are many more stories of disaster in private education then there are Ms. DeVos’s shining, singular example of student success.

Let’s enact the $5 billion donation proposal–let’s double it. But, don’t apply it to private, religious schools, send it to schools operating in zip codes that are perpetually, grossly underfunded and “forgotten.”



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