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New Congressional legislation aims to boost scholarships for school choice with tax credits

A first-grade student works on an art assignment at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy in Ozone Park, N.Y., Jan. 30, 2023. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, The Tablet)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Educational Choice for Children Act, federal legislation to implement tax credits for scholarships for students to cover expenses related to K-12 public and private education, was introduced Jan. 26 in both the U.S. House and Senate. The bill faces difficult odds in Congress, but proponents say its passage would address growing parental concerns about education.

If enacted, the bill would authorize $10 billion in annual tax credits administered by the Treasury Department on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to its authors, who also estimate that 2 million students would be eligible to receive the funds for use in any elementary or secondary educational setting, including homeschooling.

The tax credits would cover donations from individuals to nonprofit organizations providing scholarships to eligible students, according to the bill’s text.

The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., and in the U.S. House by Representatives by Reps. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and Burgess Owens, R-Utah. Groups including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have indicated their support for the legislation.

Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, praised the lawmakers in a Jan. 26 statement for “your work on this legislation and your efforts to ensure the program is open to all students in all sectors.”

“The prospect of expanded educational choice for families will benefit American education and better serve our children,” Bishop Daly said.

The bill faces a steep path in Congress. Even if the legislation were taken up for a vote, it would be unlikely to clear the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has criticized comparable proposals in the past, arguing that more funding should go toward public education, not less.

“Ensuring the next generation of students receive a quality education is critical for the future of our communities, workforce and nation,” Scott said in a Jan. 31 statement.

“A dollar-for-dollar tax credit allows individuals and businesses alike to invest in the lives of millions of American children,” he said.

Cassidy argued, “Parents deserve the right to make the best educational decision for their child, regardless of income.”

“Our bill empowers families to pick the school that best fits their children’s needs,” he added.

Supporters of school choice programs argue that the programs foster competition in education, leading to better educational opportunities, and allow parents to tailor their child’s education by choosing from larger or smaller public schools, or making private school more affordable.

Opponents of such programs argue that they divert public funding from disadvantaged students and rural public schools.

Luke Messer, president of the Invest in Education Coalition, and a former former member of Congress from Indiana’s sixth district, said, “expanding K-12 education freedom is more urgent than ever for our children and in demand by their parents; it’s time for Congress and the Administration to follow the lead of states and deliver.”

Messer, who co-founded the Congressional School Choice Caucus during his time in office, said the issue enjoys broad-based support from voters, “which is why 31 states and D.C. have tax credit scholarship, voucher or Education Savings Account programs.”

“By passing the ECCA, Congress will complement what these states have done and will create this opportunity for children in every state,” Messer said. “This is how Congress can put America’s parents and students first.”

Peter Murphy, vice president for policy at the Invest in Education Foundation, told OSV News he is optimistic about the bill’s chances, because it is “responsive to parental needs for the K-12 schooling system.”

“We’re demonstrating a lot of support,” Murphy said, adding the group “isn’t taking anything for granted,” and that they hope to make their case for the bill to each member of Congress.

Jim Cultrara, director of education for the New York State Catholic Conference, said the bill “would level the playing field” for students in non-public educational formats like Catholic schools, or students in states without school choice programs.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.

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