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GOP Tax Proposal Silent on Private School Choice Boost, For Now

A much-discussed boost for school choice was absent from the proposed overhaul to federal tax policy outlined by congressional Republicans on Wednesday. But that doesn't mean it will ultimately be left out. 

The GOP's "Unified Framework for Fixing a Broken Tax Code"does not specifically mention the availability of a tax credit for those who make donations to groups sponsoring scholarships to private schools. School choice advocates have pushed for months for Republican lawmakers to include the provision in their tax overhaul, and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has long been a supporter of such tax-credit scholarships out the state level. 

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There are more details to come, however: The framework discussing the proposed changes does say that the relevant congressional committees "will also develop additional reforms to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of tax laws." So it's possible that some kind of tax credit for school choice could be included in legislation the GOP drafts to implement this tax reform.

At the same time, the framework also says one of the aims is to close "special interest tax breaks and loopholes," and that, "Numerous other exemptions, deductions and credits for individuals riddle the tax code" that the GOP wants to repeal.

The framework itself is also silent on the fate of the state and local tax deduction. However, news reports Wednesday indicated that the deduction could be eliminated. Getting rid of that deduction could have big implications for education funding.

The absence of a school choice tax credit in the framework could spell doom for efforts by DeVos and others to get the federal goverment behind some sort of school choice expansion, at least for the near future. President Donald Trump has consistently backed school choice, and even highlighted one beneficiary of tax-credit scholarship programs during his address to Congress earlier this year. But he's never spoken specifically in favor of creating such tax credits at the federal level.

Trump supposedly told DeVos that he wasn't able to successfully push the tax credit as part of tax reform, although the secretary said there's more to come from the Trump administration on school choice in a recent interview with us. So far, Congress has declined to pay for proposals from DeVos and Trump to expand private school choice in the administration's proposed budget for fiscal 2018.

Advocates for school choice, including the American Federation for Children (the group DeVos formerly led), remain hopeful that such tax credits will be included.

There is legislation in Congress that aims to expand school choice, but so far those bills haven't gotten much traction

Elsewhere, the GOP framework would increase the income thresholds where child tax credits would begin to phase out. The blueprint says this would make the child tax credit available to more middle-class families. However, the proposal does not address child care tax benefits. Trump, as well as his daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, made more affordable child care an issue during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The GOP tax blueprint also mentions that it retains current benefits that offer incentives for higher education, but does not address details on that front. 

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