While most of the K–12 educational-funding and -policy decisions are appropriately housed in the states, an innovative new policy idea would allow the federal government to play a constructive role in expanding educational opportunity in America. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has unveiled a proposal for Education Freedom Scholarships, with corresponding legislation introduced by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Bradley Byrne. The plan would invest $5 billion annually in America’s students by allowing individuals and businesses to make contributions to in-state, non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) that provide scholarships to students. Contributors would receive a non‐refundable, dollar‐for‐dollar federal tax credit in return for their donations. No contributor would be allowed a total tax benefit greater than the amount of their contribution, and not a single dollar would be taken away from public schools and the students who attend them.
The plan mandates that scholarships must be used for an individual student’s elementary or secondary education, or for their career and technical education. Importantly, the plan’s implementation — including governance of SGOs, education providers, and education expenses as well as student-eligibility decisions — would be left to each state that chooses to participate. The plan would require states to distribute at least 90 percent of the funds as scholarships. Other than that, everything else about the program would be left up to each state.
To be clear, this legislation would not create a new federal program. No state or SGO would be forced to participate, and no family would be forced to accept a scholarship. The legislation respects federalism, the autonomy of parents and education providers, and the appropriate role of the states in K–12 education. It leverages the tax code in an innovative way to facilitate greater educational opportunity, and ultimately greater economic benefit for millions of students.
Why is this legislation needed? Our nation’s K–12 system is denying too many children access to a high-quality education; access to such an education is a moral and economic imperative; and school choice is overwhelmingly supported by voters and it works.
“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”