Washington — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ school-choice agenda is getting a bit of a boost from the Republican tax bill, which would allow parents to use education savings accounts to pay tuition at private elementary and secondary schools.

Yet some conservative groups favoring school choice say the tax bill doesn’t help low-income families.

Expanding school choice — access to charter, private and other options besides neighborhood schools — has been a top priority of the Trump administration and DeVos, who has spent decades working on that front in her home state of Michigan.

But nine months into her tenure, DeVos has yet to come forward with a major school choice initiative, which her supporters have been hoping for and her critics have feared. The tax proposal stops significantly short of the $20 billion school-choice project that President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail.

Under the GOP bill, parents would be able to use up to $10,000 per year from a 529 education savings account to pay for K-12 education; that account was previously restricted to college tuition and expenses. At the same time, the bill calls for phasing out the Coverdell savings account, which offered similar tools but capped the contributions at $2,000 annually, and rolling it into the 529.

“This is a good step forward, reflecting that education should be an investment in individual students, not systems,” DeVos said in a statement.

The American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group that DeVos used to head, praised the idea of expanding the 529 accounts to elementary and secondary schools students, but warned that low-income families have fallen through the cracks.

John Schilling, CEO of the group, said in a statement that its members are “concerned about and focused on those families who do not have 529s, typically low-income families who aren’t able to put away those savings, who are looking for more and better educational options for their children.”

Rick Hess, director of education policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that the change will have a “very modest impact,” since a 529 savings account is not tax-free and only exempts one from paying taxes on the return to investment. That, he said, doesn’t amount to much, unless the account has existed for many years.

GOP revises tax bill

A day after the GOP unveiled its plan promising middle-class relief, the House’s top tax-writer, Rep. Kevin Brady, released a revised version of the bill that would impose a new, lower-inflation “chained CPI” adjustment for tax brackets immediately instead of in 2023. That means more income would be taxed at higher rates over time — and less generous tax cuts for individuals and families.

The change, posted on the website of the Ways and Means Committee, reduces the value of the tax cuts for ordinary Americans by $89 billion over 10 years compared with the legislation released with fanfare Thursday.


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