Cruz, DeVos Defend Tax-Credit Scholarship Proposal as ‘Right Fight to Have’ as Conservatives Criticize Plan and Dems Declare It ‘Dead on Arrival’
Proponents of a federal tax-credit scholarship plan used a press conference on Thursday to proactively address anticipated criticism, as conservatives accused it of being a federal overreach and congressional Democrats immediately criticized the proposal.
During the press conference, Senator Ted Cruz, who will sponsor one of the two bills, expressed his hope that the legislation would be bipartisan. He acknowledged the current partisan climate in Washington but emphasized the importance of finding common ground.
The Education Department unveiled its proposal on Wednesday evening, which aims to provide up to $5 billion annually in federal tax credits for donations to state scholarship-granting organizations.
Currently, there are 18 states that have tax-credit scholarship programs, which fund scholarships for children to attend schools other than their assigned ones, mostly private schools. These programs typically benefit low-income children or students with disabilities.
Both Senator Cruz and Representative Bradley Byrne, a Republican from Alabama, introduced bills on Thursday. Byrne’s bill aligns with the Education Department’s proposal and would provide up to $5 billion annually for K-12 scholarships. Cruz’s bill goes a step further, allocating $5 billion for K-12 scholarships and an additional $5 billion for apprenticeships and workforce training.
Although the Education Department’s proposal does not include workforce training, Education Secretary DeVos expressed her support for all efforts to expand educational choice. The inclusion of workforce training is aimed at broadening the coalition of supporters required to pass the bill, according to Cruz.
These bills, referred to as Education Freedom Scholarships, are a direct response to President Trump’s call during the State of the Union address to "pass school choice," as highlighted by Byrne. However, garnering support for the bills seems challenging already, as Democrats, now in control of the House, have been critical of the proposal.
Representative Bobby Scott, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, stressed that House Democrats will focus on reversing the chronic underfunding of public schools instead of entertaining proposals that undermine public education. Similarly, Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, labeled the proposal as "dead on arrival."
Requests for comments from Republican leaders of the congressional education committees went unanswered, while Neil Campbell from the Center for American Progress questioned the support from Republicans for such a proposal.
Secretary DeVos and Senator Cruz dismissed the notion that the proposal is an attack on public education, with DeVos referring to it as "fake news." They both argued that the infusion of funds would stimulate competition, leading to improvements in all schools.
However, they acknowledged that passing these bills would be challenging. Cruz emphasized that although it is not an easy fight, it is the right fight for the sake of children.
DeVos pointed out that state tax-credit scholarship programs have received bipartisan support in the past, countering conservative arguments that the federal government should not be involved in K-12 education beyond its responsibility for certain constituencies.
Overall, Cruz, DeVos, and Byrne defended the proposal against criticism, highlighting its opt-in nature and asserting that the federal government commonly uses tax credits to incentivize certain actions. They seek to address concerns about federal intervention in state curriculum decisions and emphasize the benefits of the proposed plan.
The proposal put forth by the department aims to set limits on tax credits without imposing any requirements on states. These requirements would include restrictions on which students are eligible, as well as the need for a minimum GPA or test score to be eligible for participation.
When asked about these responses, Burke acknowledged the existence of three federal laws that prohibit federal intervention in curriculum. However, she pointed out that this did not prevent the Obama Administration from promoting the implementation of the Common Core.
While appreciating the effort to avoid additional federal regulations and interference, Burke expressed skepticism based on past experiences. According to her, these prohibitions have not effectively prevented the federal government from meddling in local school policies.
The reaction to the proposals was not entirely negative, as it received support from organizations such as the American Federation for Children, which DeVos formerly led, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
In a statement, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the creator of the Foundation, emphasized the importance of empowering families to decide the best educational path for their children. He praised the Education Freedom Scholarship Program for expanding successful choice initiatives in various states, all while avoiding a larger government or higher taxes.
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