Earlier today, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as United States Secretary of Education. Both Mississippi Senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, supported her confirmation.
DeVos is a long-time champion of education choice, devoting much of her life to the cause. She previously served as Chairman of the American Federation for Children, a national leader in the school choice movement. One of the most well-known faces of the school choice movement will soon be leading the United States Department of Education.
And she will likely fill the Department’s will and pleasure employees with like-minded ed reformers from around that the country. That is a good thing, unless you are a union official.
Now that school choice is receiving more attention on the national level than ever before, here is a look at where we may be headed and what it means for Mississippi students.
A number of bills have already been introduced (or reintroduced) in the United States House and Senate. They will certainly have a greater chance of becoming law this year than they did in the past.
- The CHOICE Act: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has reintroduced the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act, which would provide school choice options for students with disabilities and military families. The proposal would enable states that already run disability school choice programs, as Mississippi does, to expand educational options for children with special needs with federal dollars. It would also create a pilot program under the Department of Defense on at least five bases to provide scholarships of $8,000-$12,000to students in military families.
- Title I Portability: Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) has reintroduced legislation, the Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Students Act, which would give states the option to allow $14.5 billion in Title I federal money to follow low-income children to the public or private school of their choice. The proposal would also expand 529 college savings accounts to K-12 education and eliminate the $2,000 cap on Coverdell education savings accounts.
- 529 College Savings Expansion: A proposal from Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) would expand 529 college savings accounts to cover K-12 education. It would also increase the limit on contribution to Coverdell accounts, which can be used for K-12 education expenses, to $12,000.
- Federal Tax Credit: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has reintroduced legislation that would create a federal tax credit for individuals who contribute to a state tax-credit scholarship program. At the state level, 17 states currently have tax credit scholarship programs. Mississippi would need to create a program to participate in this program.
- Native American Education Opportunity Act: Introduced last year by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and very likely to return, this would allow students living on Indian reservations to receive an ESA if their home state has an ESA in place. This includes Mississippi, which currently has eight Bureau of Indian Education schools across three counties in the east-central part of the state.
The larger bills could still face resistance from Democrats in the Senate would can potentially filibuster standalone legislation like The CHOICE Act or Title I Portability. After the losing fight they put up against DeVos, it does not stand to reason that they would suddenly become more favorable to school choice.
However, changes to the tax code such as 529 or Coverdell accounts could be passed through a broader tax reform package that only requires a simple majority for passage, not the 60 vote threshold normally required.
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