States Can Expand Educational Freedom Through Federal Tax Credit | Opinion: Nathan A. Benefield and Luke Messer

Throughout the nation, parents are demanding educational freedom for K–12 students. A majority of states have adopted school choice programs, yet most are limited by the resources available and student eligibility.

Congress and the Biden administration should expand K–12 educational freedom. Doing so would benefit millions more students and empower every parent to choose the most suitable education for their children. The federal government can do this and still respect federalism by remaining within constitutional boundaries that properly defer education policy and governance to state and local jurisdictions.

Accordingly, Congress can amend the federal tax code to encourage private donations by individuals and businesses to expand educational choice and opportunity. This tax-incentive approach would avoid placing new mandates on states and school districts—precluding new federal spending or bureaucratic interference. Accordingly, there would be no role for the U.S. Department of Education, and the autonomy and religious liberty of participating entities would be protected. Nearly two dozen states already use similar tax incentives to provide educational options to children.

The Educational Choice for Children Act (ECCA)—proposed by U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), along with Reps. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Burgess Owens (R-Utah)—would provide up to $10 billion in annual tax credits against federal income and corporate taxes for individuals and businesses donating to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations for K–12 education.

That $10 billion in ECCA tax credits would go directly toward funding K–12 scholarships. These scholarships would provide up to two million children access to a high-quality education—more than tripling the number of students who currently benefit from private school choice programs.

The ECCA would also empower every parent to “shop for” and access educational opportunities other than their children’s district-assigned public school.

Expanding educational options brings real accountability to school boards and teachers’ unions, which will need to respond to dissatisfied parents—or lose them. By allowing for competition, educational choice benefits not only participants but students who remain in public schools.

Several studies confirm that expanding educational opportunity improves the academic outcomes of public school students. Additional studies show the fiscal benefits of educational choice programs and the gains for students served with scholarships.

Now more than ever, America’s students need education alternatives. Such reforms will help them catch up from COVID-19 pandemic learning loss—the 2022 Nation’s Report Card shows that fewer than one-third of eighth-grade students are proficient at reading or math. While many students live in good school districts, too many are trapped in underperforming schools that are not meeting their needs.

ECCA-supported scholarships would give students educational freedom—helping ensure that they can choose the learning environment that works best for them.
The ECCA’s federal tax credit would complement existing tax credit scholarship programs at the state level. Pennsylvania, for example, currently has tax credit programs that provide 62,000 K–12 students with an average scholarship of around $2,500. The ECCA would give more Pennsylvania students access to schools of their choice and allow for larger scholarship amounts.