School choice advocates got a little known win in the march against the walkable school down the street with the passage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts” last week. The new law now allows earnings from 529 plans, a special tax free saving account used for college expenses, to now be used for K-12 Private School expenses including home school. This provision was slid in at the last minute and really hasn’t been covered. It’s a win for the alternative school groups and the taxes lost on those earnings that would normally be charged is now subsiding private, and in most cases religious education. Don’t get too excited though, 529 plans are funded with post tax funds and are very slow growth, so unless you’ve had one for your child since birth it’s not likely you will be able to use anything meaningful in the next couple years.
Another more powerful bill is being floated on the the State Level. Senate Bill 193, “establishes education freedom savings accounts for children between 5 and 20 years of age.” Essentially it would create a pool of State Funded scholarship accounts allowing parents to use the funds for a school of their choosing.
I have no problem with people who want to send their children to a private school, even a religious one, but public money should not be funding it. Furthermore, I worry about the ramification of disabled students. One aspect many parents do not understand is that private schools unlike public schools are not bound by the American With Disabilities Act. They are not required to accommodate students with disabilities, and many get screen out or pushed out when their grades fail.
The Concord Monitor puts it this way:
SB 193 would provide state funds to certain families withdrawing their children from public schools to spend on private schooling expenses. The legislation is, in part, actually targeted to children with disabilities – students on special education plans are one of four categories that qualify.
But students who take part in the program forfeit most of their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the landmark piece of federal legislation that guarantees children with disabilities a free, individually-tailored education. Religious schools aren’t even subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Finally, school choice has been shown to have very little effect on the outcome of a students success, and no success when given more private sector choice. An NIH study found:
That more choice of regular public schools in the elementary and middle school years is associated with a lower likelihood that students will be severely disengaged in eighth grade, and more choices of public schools of choice has a similar effect but only in urban areas. In contrast, more private sector choice does not have such a general beneficial effect. (Emphasis Added)
Supporters of SB 193 say they want the freedom to chose the school they sent their child too. They do have a choice, they must pay for it. They also have the freedom to move to a district that better suits their needs. I think the real motivation behind the bill is that parents don’t like secular instruction, and don’t want to pay extra to send their children to school that teaches from a religious view point.