Home > Uncategorized > The Vengeful GOP Tax Bill Will Undermine Public Education, Help Billionaires Seeking Privatization

The Vengeful GOP Tax Bill Will Undermine Public Education, Help Billionaires Seeking Privatization

December 5, 2017

Everything about the proposed “tax reform” bill is wrong, starting with the process used to write it and ending with the nasty anti-intellectual vengeance that is the basis for the contents.

As anyone following politics realizes, the GOP bill is just that: it was written behind closed doors by a small cadre of politicians and amended up with pencil scribblings in the margins up to 28 minutes before the 478-page bill was circulated  for a vote. As Jeff Bryant reports in his blog post titled “GOP War on Learning Continues” and the NYTimes reporter Erica Green reports in her article on the impact of the bill, public education is getting a double hit. The tax bill will penalize residents in states that raise taxes to provide services by eliminating the deductions for state and local property taxes in excess of $10,000 while simultaneously allowing parents to use tax sheltered 529 plans for private school costs. In effect, the tax bill shifts federal money from public schools to private schools— including private sectarian schools. This also has the effect of penalizing “blue states” that are reliably oppose GOP candidates and rewarding the “red states” who typically underfund programs that benefit poor and minority children and have higher rates of private school attendance. This is not unintentional.

Mr. Bryant’s articles offers several specific examples of how the bill would impact public schools, some of which involve arcane accounting changes that would compel schools to shift resources to increase debt service payments and some of which are crystal clear. The cuts to the State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions alone will have an immediate impact on class sizes and teaching jobs:

While the House tax plan’s cut to SALT deductions would “put nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk,” according to analysts at the National Education Association, the Senate plan to end the deduction would plunge the dagger deeper, potentially leading to a loss of $370 billion in state and local tax revenue over 10 years, the NEA calculates, and endangering 370,000 education jobs.

And the dagger penetrates the deepest in those schools serving middle class children and children raised in poverty. Affluent communities will dig a little deeper in their pockets to retain their high quality schools for in doing so they are simultaneously retaining the value of their real estate. But districts that do not have affluent parents or a secure tax base will need to raise taxes on homeowners who no longer shrug when they see an increase because they will no longer be able to deduct those taxes. And all of this is happening at a time when 29 states are spending less now on public education than they were spending in 2008. As Mr. Bryant writes:

New GOP federal tax plans compound the harm state and local government leaders have done to public schools and students.

As a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, for the latest year with data available, 29 states currently spend less money per student than they did in 2008. Although some of the 29 states cited by the report have increased education spending lately, the increases haven’t brought back spending levels to what they were nearly a decade ago.

The cuts to K-12 spending have “serious consequences,” CBPP authors contend, including crippling efforts to hire and retain the best teachers, reduce class sizes, expand learning time, and provide high-quality early childhood education.

Of the 10 states that have cut state and local education spending the most – Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Idaho, Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Utah (in descending order from 25 percent to 8.6 percent) – all have had a Republican “trifecta” in charge, including a Republican governor and Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

But SOME students will benefit, as Ms. Greene reports in the NYTimes: children raised by wealthy parents and homeschooled students. The use of 529 plans to cover private schooling has an obvious and straightforward effect: “…it benefits wealthy families who already have thousands of dollars at their disposal to pay for their children to attend nonpublic schools.” The benefits for homeschoolers are more subtle but will win over many parents who do not enroll their children in any schools:

For homeschoolers, the Cruz amendment was a cause for celebration. For years, homeschool advocates have denounced what they called a “discriminatory” tax code. Not only were 529s limited to just college costs, but existing K-12 expense accounts, called Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, are recognized for homeschools only in a handful of states where they can win designations as private schools. Coverdell contributions are limited to $2,000 a year, while contributions to 529 accounts can reach $14,000 a year without incurring gift taxes.

Will Estrada, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association, called the Cruz amendment a “massive win” for homeschooling families.

Mr. Estrada said that since the Trump administration took office, the organization had been working behind the scenes with the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and Ivanka Trump’s staff to have the nearly two million students in home schools recognized. Homeschooling families spend about $500 to $600 a year on average on instructional materials like books, Mr. Estrada said.

“We want to be treated fairly,” he said.

Being “fairly treated” in this case means diverting funds from the pockets of taxpayers who support public education into the pockets of those who choose to take their children out of school altogether.

For public school advocates, the 529 expansion was just the latest in a series of decisions they said illustrated the Trump administration’s disinvestment in public education.

“It’s just icing on the cake,” (AASA policy director Sasha) Pudelski said. “It seems they’re just asking how many different ways can we not support public schools.”

I would like to believe that if taxpayers were asked if their funds could be directed away from the public school down the street and given instead to prestigious private schools, sectarian schools, and homeschooling parents who use texts that teach about intelligent design that they would be appalled. I hope my belief is well founded, for if it isn’t the end of public education is moving closer every day.

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