AUSTIN (KXAN) — On the heels of a close November election, Senator Ted Cruz returns to Texas after filing an education reform bill.
The Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act would allow new federal tax credits for businesses and people to donate to scholarships to send kids to a variety of different schools.
Sen. Cruz tells KXAN people would receive a dollar-for-dollar credit for donations to a state-identified scholarship granting organization. The bill would also, according to the release, allow states to create their own programs, according to individual state needs.
Senator Ted Cruz met with business leaders at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in downtown Austin who supports the legislation. Representatives from the Texas Association and Business and the National Federation of Independent Business met with Cruz in Austin.
The policy – if passed – would allow businesses and individuals to donate to scholarships so families could choose which school to go to public, private, or a trade school. You’d write the donation off of your income taxes or your corporate taxes.
The program would be up to $100 billion over ten years; half for K-12, half for trade schools or workforce development.
There are no income requirements but Sen. Cruz believes states would create them for their specific programs.
“It leaves it to the states but if you look, a lot of different states have created tax credit programs much like this and most of them have imposed income requirements. You typically have something like, say they’re eligible for families that say two hundred percent of poverty,” said Cruz in an interview with KXAN, “That’s one line that a number of them use. That would be up to the state of Texas, I think there would certainly be a significant likelihood that Texas would decide to means test it. But the federal legislation doesn’t mandate it because each state might answer that question a little bit differently.”
Under the Texas school finance system, most of the money follows the kid to the schools. Public school advocates worry that this policy encourages kids to go out of the public school it would make the pot of money for public schools smaller. When asked, Cruz disagreed.
“Well this legislation allows states, if they so desire, to let kids choose to send that money, their scholarship directly to the public school they’re in. So then one potential could be more money for the public schools. That’s up to each state how they structure it but this legislation gives states that flexibility,” said Cruz.
David Pore from the Association of Texas Professional Educators is skeptical conservative-led states like Texas would send the money to public schools when in his view, state lawmakers are underfunding public schools as it is.
“Right now our public schools are so underfunded the idea that you know, taking limited public resources that we have and diverting them to private schools is problematic,” said Pore.
Pore also critiques the plan because some of the private and trade schools the students would go to would not have the same standardized accountability measures that public schools currently have.
“The fact that private schools that are going to be potentially be receiving this federal money wouldn’t have to hire certified teachers, wouldn’t be subject to the same accountability standards, wouldn’t have to educate and accept into their program all students regardless of potential disability,” said Pore.
The next step for Sen. Cruz’s plan would be passing the Senate Finance Committee. The democratically controlled House would eventually have to approve this plan for it to become law.