Republican Plans to Expand School Vouchers Also Include a Tax Kick Back to the Wealthy
It’s long been a goal of the right to shift the role of the government, including educating children, to the private sector (and use taxpayer dollars to enrich the private sector in the process). So it was no surprise that last week’s Republican National Convention included a heavy emphasis on so-called “school choice” voucher policies that use taxpayer dollars to send kids to private, usually religious, K-12 schools.
But let’s be clear. These initiatives are noxious education policy, rooted in a racist history, and continue to promote segregation and discrimination even today. What makes these initiatives doubly harmful is that voucher tax credits have been used by wealthy individuals and profitable businesses for their own financial gain, at the expense of public education and other public services.
For years, wealthy people participating in any of a dozen different versions of these state-level programs have been able to reap tax cuts larger than the “donations” they make to private school voucher funds. In the simplest version of this scheme, a wealthy person would make a $50,000 payment to support private and religious schooling and receive every penny of that $50,000 back from their state government in tax credits. They would then go running to the IRS, posing as a philanthropist, and claim a federal charitable deduction for that same gift, netting them up to $18,500 in personal profit.
The IRS eventually caught wind of this scheme and narrowed it somewhat, against the strident objections of private school groups who found that being able to advertise a tax shelter to the wealthy was a great way to get them to open their wallets. But a pared-back version of the tax shelter lives on, continuing to pad the bank accounts of rich investors and business owners in many states.
The result would be billions of dollars in new funding for unaccountable private schools and billions of dollars less for every other pressing need.
Not content to stop at the state level, the Trump administration and its school privatization allies have recently been seeking to enact a federal version of this credit. Under their ideal tax code, most taxpayers would receive no tax benefit at all from charitable giving unless they happen to support private K-12 school vouchers, in which case their tax subsidy would be enormous, with a full dollar in tax cuts for every dollar contributed. The result would be billions of dollars in new funding for unaccountable private schools and billions of dollars less for every other pressing need.