Tax Credit for Scholarships Could Boost Homeschooling
by Maggie McKneely • March 5, 2019
Surrounded by school choice advocates, District of Columbia charter school students, homeschool families, and congressional allies, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently unveiled one of the most significant school choice proposals to come out of Washington.
The Education Freedom Scholarships Act would expand educational choice to thousands of students nationwide.
The legislation is sponsored by Alabama Representative Bradley Byrne and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (S. 634), both of whom attended the roll-out at the Department of Education. President Trump has stated that he would sign it if it reaches his desk.
For a Good Cause
Under the plan, Americans would receive a dollar-for-dollar credit for donations to a state-identified scholarship granting organization (SGO).
Currently, many families lack the financial resources to choose the educational option best suited to their children’s needs. But SGOs are designed to provide financial assistance to families that qualify.
By encouraging additional donations to SGOs, this tax credit program would give more families the opportunity of choosing some form of private education, including homeschooling. Cruz told event attendees that proponents of the plan “are fighting for the right of every child in America to get an excellent education.”
No Strings Attached
While HSLDA opposes state-funded Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and similar programs that come with federal government strings attached, we support this plan because it would increase educational choice without unnecessary oversight.
S. 634 would accomplish this by granting a tax credit to anyone who voluntarily contributes to a non-profit organization that gives education-based scholarships to low-income families. A tax credit is simply an amount of money that taxpayers can subtract from the amount they owe the government.
To protect the rights of local communities and limit federal control over education, each state’s participation in the program would be entirely optional. If a state chooses to opt-in, its leaders, and not the federal government, would decide how to implement and administer the program.
For the nearly 20 states that already have a similar tax credit program, the administration hopes that they would augment existing plans with this federal program.
Means of Assistance
Some of the ways states could expand students’ access to educational opportunities include dual enrollment, tutoring, summer education programs, advanced and remedial courses, special education services and therapies, and private and home education.
The bill also includes strong religious liberty protections. It explicitly prohibits any federal control over participants.
The bill’s language ensures that if a state chooses to join the program, officials cannot then refuse to include religious, private, and homeschool SGOs or attempt to regulate them. Secretary DeVos stated that the “key element of the proposal is freedom,” and crafters of the bill ensured that, while expanding educational freedom, it did not curtail other liberties.
How Would This Affect Homeschoolers?
So far, the only state that allows homeschool families to benefit from SGOs is New Hampshire. In that state, SGOs can reimburse homeschool education expenses, such as curriculum and school supplies, to low-income families that qualify for the scholarship.
But it would be a boon to homeschool families nationwide if other states were to follow New Hampshire’s lead. Our hope is that this proposal will encourage the expansion of SGOs, and open the door for homeschool families in other states to benefit from them.
At the event, a number of students spoke about the importance of school choice in their lives. Faith, a homeschool student with cystic fibrosis, whose military family relocates every couple of years, was one of those who spoke in support of the plan.
She said that “American freedom should include the freedom of education.”
We at HSLDA heartily agree and applaud the administration’s step towards expanding that freedom.