Education can–and should–see a major shake-up in the new Congress.
Conservatives have a chance to advance policy proposals that shift education toward student-centered policies that empower families and limit federal meddling in education.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has offered one such proposal—the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education, or CHOICE, Act. Under Scott’s proposal, states could choose to enable families of children with special needs to have federal funding through the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act follow them to a school of choice–public or private. His proposal also would expand the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Allowing IDEA funds to be portable is an example of how federal policymakers can advance school choice in a way that is consistent with conservative goals of limiting Washington’s intervention in education.
A proposal from Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., known as the School Choice Education Savings Account Act, also would give families flexibility in education decisions. This measure would expand Section 529 of the Internal Revenue code to allow families to contribute money to 529 plans for K-12 educational expenses as well as college education, as the section now allows. As Heritage’s Lindsey Burke and Rachel Sheffield have written:
Expanding section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code to allow families to contribute money to 529 plans for K–12 educational expenses would provide new incentives for families to save for K–12 education-related expenses while increasing their ability to pay for education options outside the public-school system. This relatively small change to federal tax law could have major implications for school choice. Since most states have either tax credits or deductions to encourage saving in a 529 college plan, revising section 529 to include K–12 expenses would likely encourage states to allow parents to deduct their contributions to 529 plans from their state income tax obligations, in order to encourage saving for K–12 education costs.
States also have an opportunity to enact reforms that will empower more families to choose education options that work for their children.
Parental choice in education is proliferating across the country, and momentum is likely to build. As of 2014, 41 private-school choice programs are operating in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Education Savings Accounts, in particular, are offering a new frontier of education choice. Florida this year became the second state to enact ESAs. According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 18 of the new governors-elect—Democrats and Republicans—favor school choice policies.
ESAs represent the next generation of school choice by empowering parents with the ability to direct 90 percent of what the state would have spent on their child in public school toward a variety of pre-approved education options, fully customizing their child’s education. These options include private tuition, tutoring, curricula, textbooks, individual public-school courses, online learning and education therapies. Parents even can roll unused funds into a college savings account.
As the school choice movement continues to grow more expansive and more innovative, the results of this election could signal a chance to provide even more children with the education that best serves their needs.