Federalized School Choice? A High-Risk Choice
By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. February 6, 2019
In his State of the Union speech, President Trump urged lawmakers to pass a school choice bill. Fortunately, it’s highly unlikely that any such legislation will be passed. The $1 billion competitive grant for vouchers that Trump favors and the federal tax credit scholarship, considered a federal power grab by conservatives, lack Congressional support.
The school voucher is rejected by most of the highly independent and growing homeschooling population in the United States.
A 2010 study at Cato concluded that voucher programs impose a substantial and statistically significant additional burden on participating private schools because state funds—which invariably invite state regulation—are directly transferred, in the form of vouchers, to parents to spend in an alternate education setting.
State tax credit scholarships, however, involve no state funds directly expended on private schools. Instead, taxpayers, both individual and businesses, can receive full or partial state tax credits when they donate money to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships.
Sparks flew in 2017 when Senator Ted Cruz filed an amendment to the tax reform bill allowing 529 college savings accounts to be expanded to include private, religious, and homeschools. The homeschool associations squared off in separate corners on the homeschool provision. Eventually the amendment was withdrawn.
Despite the good intentions of the Cruz amendment, one of the main reasons families who homeschool or enroll their children in private or religious schools is to keep the federal government out of their child’s education.
The homeschool associations disagree on whether the Cruz amendment will result in the unintended consequence of allowing the federal government to exercise control over homeschools.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, which is strongly opposed to federal funds for homeschoolers, helped to craft the Cruz amendment and maintains they are not concerned with encroaching federal control.
Constitutional attorney Deborah Stevenson with National Home Education Legal Defense charged that the Cruz Amendment was unconstitutional because under the Tenth Amendment, the federal government has no authority to grant a benefit to individuals for education purposes, since control over education is left to the states.
It’s true that no federal funds are deposited into 529 accounts, only after-tax funds of individuals. Here’s the problem. Because the federal government rules how you spend your own money from the account, the heavy hand of the federal government is exercising control over education. This is a Trojan horse for the federal government to gain control over homeschoolers and private schools.
The federal government has gradually taken control of education at all levels, which has been accomplished with enticement through monetary “benefits.” The Elementary and Secondary Elementary Act of 1965 was “sold” on the basis that it simply provided help for poor students – although politicians understood it was really about gaining eventual control over K-12 public education.
This was the nose of the camel in the education tent. It didn’t take the camel long to take up residence in the tent while shoving out parents and states. Later the ESEA was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind and the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015.
Those politicians who voted for ESEA in 1965 have succeeded: the goal of ESSA is the nationalization of education. So much for “helping poor children.”
The federal government has also butted into higher education, helping students with loans and all manner of enticements along with requirements for colleges and universities. This intrusion of the federal government has created many of the problems we have in higher education today.
If Congress really wants to help parents with better education options for their children, lawmakers can begin by abolishing all federal involvement in education and return control to the states and local governments.