Education Week - November 29, 2017 - 15
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
Motion on Tax Plans
With Effects on K-12
By Andrew Ujifusa
Congress is making headway on big
changes to the federal tax code that could affect a wide range of issues in education, from
out-of-pocket teacher expenses and school
choice to-more indirectly-pressure on federal spending for schools.
The House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs
Act passed by a 227-205 vote this month. The
same week, the Senate finance committee approved its version of the legislation with the
same name, and a full vote in the Senate was
expected after the Thanksgiving holiday. So
far, the GOP-backed bills have not attracted
any Democratic support, but complex challenges remain for lawmakers seeking to reconcile the two bills and get them to President
Donald Trump for his signature.
If some of the proposed changes do become
law, the shifts could create additional pressure for the federal government to cut discretionary spending, including for the U.S.
Department of Education. However, recent
precedent doesn't create a clear case for that,
and the tax bills themselves don't directly cut
or add to federal K-12 spending levels.
Here's a rundown of key areas to watch in
the complex federal tax-code debate:
State and Local Funding
Among other significant shifts in tax policy,
proposals in both chambers would end several deductions for state and local income
and sales taxes. The House bill would allow
a deduction for local property taxes of up to
$10,000 annually, but the Senate bill would
eliminate all state and local deductions.
Education advocates warn that ending
those deductions would push state and local
governments to cut their own taxes in response to ease financial pressure on taxpayers, particularly in states with relatively
high taxes that tend to be controlled by
The impact of such changes could vary
widely between states and local communities. The tax proposals also would double the
standard deduction individuals and house-
holds can take on income subject to federal
tax, which could ease the state and local tax
burden even with the loss of other deductions.
There's also a big difference between the
bills when it comes to deductions specifically
tailored for educators.
The House bill would repeal the $250 deduction teachers-as well as principals and
others-can take for classroom supplies they
buy out of their own pockets. However, the
Senate legislation to be considered by the
full chamber would actually double that
deduction, up to $500. Sen. Susan Collins,
R-Maine, a key GOP vote in her chamber,
pushed for the deduction to be introduced
into the federal tax code back in 2002.
Impact on Teachers
Republicans in Congress who say they're
looking to simplify the tax code while also
delivering relief to many individuals and
households have been focused on eliminating
The two national teachers' unions, though,
have decried the House bill for removing the
$250 deduction, arguing that the move would
punish teachers who are generally expected-
although not officially required-to spend at
least some of their own income to buy pencils,
books, software, and other classroom supplies.
A notable gap also exists between the House
and Senate proposals when it comes to the
controversial issue of school choice.
The House bill would allow money in
529 college-savings plans to be used for educational expenses at the elementary and
secondary level, including for private school
tuition. The cap on such expenses would be
$10,000 annually. But the Senate bill does not
include that change to 529 plans. The Senate
and House bills would also allow individuals
to contribute to 529 plans when a child is in
utero or "unborn." The House bill does the
same and also would allow 529 savings to be
used for apprenticeships.
Two amendments to the tax bill that would
have expanded private school choice were
not included in the legislation sent to the
full chamber. One from Sen. Orrin Hatch,
House, Senate proposals differ on details
President Donald Trump walks with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, after meeting with
House Republicans on Capitol Hill before the House approved its version of a federal tax overhaul.
R-Utah, the chairman of the Senate finance
committee that sent the legislation to the full
Senate, would have established a charitable
deduction for religious instruction. The other,
from Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., would have created a new tax-credit program for corporations and individuals making donations to
groups supporting private school scholarships
for low- and middle-income families.
DeVos Weighs In
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
praised the House proposal as a sound way
to expand educational options for parents, as
did several school choice advocacy groups. If
changes to 529 plans become law, it would be
the first federally backed expansion of school
choice under the Trump administration.
However, 529 plans tend to be used by
relatively well-off families. And while the
American Federation for Children, the
school choice advocacy group DeVos used
to lead, praised the proposed change to the
savings plans, the group also expressed
concern in a statement before the House
bill passed that the proposal wouldn't necessarily do much to expand school choice to
In a letter earlier this month to the Senate,
43 education groups also expressed concern
about the tax bills' long-term impact on federal K-12 spending.
"If tax reform is deficit-financed and adds to
the federal debt, as both the budget resolution
and the House bill would allow, there will be
increased pressure for Congress to curb direct
spending for education and all discretionary
spending," wrote the groups, including the two
national teachers' unions as well as associations
representing school boards and administrators.
Since fiscal 2011, the national debt has
grown from $13.6 trillion to $20.5 trillion.
The Education Department's budget is now
$68.2 billion-almost exactly what it was
in fiscal 2011. And it has not varied a great
deal in recent years. The biggest change was
a one-year dip of about $2.4 billion, to $65.7
billion in fiscal 2013.
"If only we had seen the type of fiscal discipline ... that any sort of downward pressure
should have caused, we'd be in a better place,"
said Lindsey Burke, the director of the Center
for Education Policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive
director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, conceded that there's no
direct correlation between increased debt levels and decreased education funding. But she
said, "If it is not [lawmakers'] intent to cut
education funding, I would love to get that
Ng added, "There will be an additional fiscal burden on annual appropriations for years
Democrats Grill Ed. Dept. Nominees on School Choice Priorities
By Alyson Klein
Senate education committee
Democrats used the recent confirmation hearing of two top U.S. Department of Education nominees to
make their case against the Trump
administration's favorite K-12 policy: school choice.
Both contenders have long records in pushing for charters,
vouchers, tax-credit scholarships,
and other types of school choice
programs. Mick Zais, who has been
tapped for deputy secretary of education, the No. 2 post at the agency,
helped create a tax-credit scholarship for students in special education when he was the state chief in
And Jim Blew, the nominee for assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis, spent
nearly a decade as the Walton Family Foundation's director of K-12
reform, advising the foundation on
how to broaden schooling options
for low-income communities. (The
Walton foundation provides support
The former South
Carolina chief is the
nominee for deputy
The nominee for a
top policy advisory
spot is a strong
to Education Week for coverage of
parent engagement and involvement issues.)
Both came under scrutiny from the
minority party in their Nov. 15 turn
before the committee.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington,
the panel's top Democrat, kicked off
the hearing by saying that she finds it
"troubling" that Zais shares Secretary
of Education Betsy DeVos' views on
the "privatization" of public education.
And she told Blew that his "record of
promoting school vouchers gives me
pause that you will not stand up for
students and public schools."
Senator after senator on the Democratic side of the dais echoed those
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., for instance, asked Zais if he was aware
that the research on the efficacy of
school choice is "abysmal."
Zais said that, in his experience,
broadening educational options improves student outcomes. But he
agreed with Franken that the evidence for that is "anecdotal."
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.,
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