DeVos Praises Tax Bill’s School Choice Provision at K-12 Education Summit, Sidesteps Funding Threat
Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, stated on Tuesday that the expansion of 529 savings plans to cover K-12 education expenses is a positive step towards increasing school choice. However, she emphasized that it only addresses the needs of parents from higher income brackets and does not provide significant empowerment to parents from lower incomes. DeVos acknowledged the importance of considering the needs of lower income families in any education policy decisions.
The bill, if passed, would allow families to save up to $10,000 per year in tax-advantaged accounts for tuition at private K-12 schools or homeschooling expenses, similar to the existing provisions for college costs. Advocates have expressed concerns that this will not benefit low-income families who may not have the means to save such amounts in advance.
The tax bill was expected to pass both chambers of Congress on Tuesday, but it was declared by the Senate parliamentarian that three provisions, including the use of 529 plans for homeschool expenses, violate a Senate rule. This rule prohibits the consideration of "extraneous matters" in bills that are being considered under fast-track rules. As a result, the bill will now need to go back to the House for another vote on Wednesday, without the problematic provisions, before returning to the Senate.
DeVos, who rarely engages with the education press, took a few questions after a "Rethink K-12 Education" summit held at the Education Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. When asked about the GOP bill’s limit on state and local tax deductions, which advocates fear could jeopardize K-12 school funding, DeVos did not provide specific details but mentioned examples of innovative districts that have achieved success with limited resources.
One district highlighted during the event was Mooresville Unified in North Carolina, which has achieved impressive results through a 1:1 laptop program, despite its relatively low per student spending of $7,500 per year. DeVos expressed confidence that regardless of the outcome of the tax bill, state and local leaders will continue to find unique ways to meet students’ needs.
The "Rethink K-12 Education" event follows DeVos’ "Rethink School" tour in September, which took her to six states, and a similar "Rethink Higher Education" event held in Washington, D.C. last week. The event consisted of three panels, featuring leaders from innovative school districts, charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling representatives.
Although DeVos is widely known for her advocacy of school choice, she emphasized that the K-12 event was not solely focused on school choice. Instead, she stated that it is a conversation about doing what is best for individual students, highlighting the various innovative schools that were showcased during the event.
Discussions during the event explored how school leaders can collaborate to facilitate new opportunities for students, as well as the role of government leaders in supporting this innovation. Diane Tavenner, CEO and founder of Summit Public Schools, emphasized the need for a comprehensive redesign of the teaching profession to achieve true innovation in education. Other school leaders also stressed the importance of teacher training and professional development, as well as the federal funds that support these initiatives.
When questioned about the difference in opinion between the panelists who emphasized teacher training and her own actions to reduce Title II funding, DeVos stated that her department has been focused on promoting flexibility in the allocation of federal funds.
She expressed the importance of having the flexibility to prioritize the types of training and professional development that were discussed during the panel. This flexibility remains a significant priority for her.
Regarding her role in advocating innovation and specific policies, DeVos reiterated her belief that she should have a limited role. She emphasized that her main responsibility is to highlight innovative school models and encourage states to take action.
DeVos emphasized the importance of decisions being made at the closest level to the students. While acknowledging the existence of policy levers, she stated that they are much less significant compared to the encouragement she can provide to states to take on the responsibility of implementing innovative strategies.
In addition, she once again urged state leaders to be innovative in their plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act. Her comments echoed similar sentiments expressed by her last month. Critics, including Democrats and civil rights advocates, have argued that DeVos’s Education Department has not done enough to protect vulnerable students, approving plans that may not adequately safeguard their interests.