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Senator Ted Cruz proposed an amendment to the recent tax reform bill to allow funds from 529 plans to be used for homeschooling1, but the Democrats voted against it and it did not make it into the final bill. I found that Cruz has said that Democrats opposed his amendment because

...the democrats hate homeschoolers. They hate that anyone gets out of centralized control, and so they filed an objection on procedural grounds and managed to get homeschoolers excluded. I think it was discriminatory, I think it was wrong, but homeschoolers unfortunately the democrats cut out of the legislation. So for 50 million school kids across the country, the provision allowing parents to save for public or private or religious or parochial schools, that's in there. But homeschoolers unfortunately the democrats succeeded in pulling them out, and that's frustrating and maddening, but nonetheless a big victory for kids across the country.

However, I couldn't find a statement by any Democrat as to why they opposed the amendment. I know that Democrats generally oppose school voucher programs which have a similar function as Cruz's amendment, so is that why Democrats voted against Cruz's amendment? I also know that Democrats generally oppose tax cuts -- and Cruz's amendment reduces the taxes paid by homeschoolers -- so is that why Democrats opposed it? On the other hand, Democrats generally support policies that increase taxes with the goal of reducing educational expenses paid by students and their families (e.g. offering "free college"); Cruz's amendment seems to be in line with the Democrats' goal of reducing educational expenses paid by students and their families.

Why did Democrats oppose Ted Cruz's provision to allow funds from 529 plans to be used for homeschooling?


1529 plans offer tax advantages for educational expenses.

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    I suspect that one of the stronger motivations is a belief that children should be exposed to secular values. Note that according to Wikipedia nearly two-thirds of homeschooling is motivated by religion. (It also seems likely that this is one of the stronger motivations behind Republican support for homeschooling, as well as for private and religious schools.) – Harry Johnston Dec 29 '17 at 0:50
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    Homeschooling and school choice in US politics are often code words for defunding public schools, usually leaving the poor to fend for themselves. At the least, the democrats probably hear the dog whistle and prepare to defend public education. – Mark Rogers Dec 29 '17 at 1:14
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    @MarkRogers Well, that is the Democrats' argument. It's utter nonsense, but it is their argument. – reirab Dec 29 '17 at 16:11
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    @MarkRogers Um, no. And equating homeschooling and school choice are also not equals. They are very different things. – fredsbend Dec 29 '17 at 19:00
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    @fredsbend They are the same in that both are terms used by conservatives when they are trying to defund public schools. – TylerH Dec 29 '17 at 21:47
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Here is the statement from Senator Wyden (D-Oregon) regarding his opposition to the amendment:

Mr. President, Senator Cruz's amendment expands tax subsidies for upper income households to aid private or parochial schools by allowing 529 account balances to spend up to $10,000 a year on private or parochial school tuition and supplies.

Colleagues, this is nothing less than a backdoor assault on the public K-12 education system. The real goal seems to be to take more and more children from the public schools and put them into private schools and shrink the funds that would be available to the public schools that give all of America's children the chance to get ahead.

Members should oppose the amendment because it undermines America's public education system.

Source: Congressional Record from Dec 1, 2017

Unfortunately, there's no anchor tag to link directly to the relevant portion, so you'll have to use your browser's find function with a portion of the quote to find it if you want to read it in the original source.


Note that Democrats opposed the entire amendment, not only the part for homeschoolers. That said, while Democrats have traditionally opposed all non-public schools, most have been more opposed to homeschooling than to private schools. The reason that only the homeschooling portion of the amendment was blocked was because Democrats invoked a technicality in Senate rules that allowed them to block that portion, but would not have allowed them to block the other portions.

Here are a couple of news articles describing the parliamentary procedure used to strip out the homeschooling portion in more detail:

San Antonio Express-News: Democrats challenge Cruz's homeschool provision
Wall Street Journal: Cruz Provision on 529 Plan for Homeschoolers Falls Out of Bill

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am Jan 1 '18 at 16:18
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I haven't found anything specific, but I see two possible reasons.

Possibility 1: The Democrats voted against to be obstructionist.

Given that the Democrats couldn't block the bill itself, it's possible that they were just looking for any opportunity to shoot down a Republican initiative. Since this one ran afoul of the Byrd Rule, it was possible for them to get it stricken from the bill.

Possibility 2: The Democrats objected to repurposing of 529 plans.

As the Wikipedia article you linked to states, the original intent of a 529 plan was to help pay for college and other forms of higher education. The Republican tax plan expands this to assisting in paying for private/religious K-12 schools. This changes the purpose from "Keep studying after high school" (something Democrats like) to "Avoid public schools" (something Democrats dislike and Republicans like).

The Cruz amendment went beyond that to extend it to pretty much any type of schooling - tutoring, home schooling, etc. This basically would mean that parents who home school their children could put tax-exempt money into the plan, and then pay themselves back for any school-related expenses. This then can lead to a lot of normal things being claimed as tax expenses: for example, is providing room and board to a homeschooled child a deductible expense in the same way that paying someone else to house your kid would be?

I have no numbers to support this, but I have the impression that the majority of home schooled children are being home schooled for religious reasons. Thus the Cruz amendment turns a Democrat-supported "increase education" tax plan into a religion-boosting tax break.

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    Regarding your last paragraph: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Harry Johnston Dec 29 '17 at 0:52
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    That said, please keep comments relevant to the answer in question. Comments about why Democrats support public education are not relevant here. All that's relevant is that they currently do. The parties' positions change over time, and that may not be true in 20 years, but it's currently the case, so this answer accepts it as a given. – Bobson Dec 30 '17 at 23:03
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    You don't know how 529 plans work. You can't put 'tax exempt' money into the plan. You put money that you've already paid taxes on into the plan. The only advantage you get is you don't pay taxes on the earnings from the money you put into the plan if used for educational expenses. Thus, there's likely not a lot of tax savings if used for home-schooling or lower education costs. The savings come from investing the money over a long period of time. Thus, the plan is mainly geared towards paying for college education costs where parents have been saving for a decade or more to be worthwhile. – Dunk Aug 28 '18 at 0:25
  • @Dunk - I don't remember what I was basing my information on when I wrote this answer, but according to the Wikipedia page, many states let you deduct donations from their taxes, even though the federal government doesn't. You're right that my answer doesn't address it correctly, though. – Bobson Aug 28 '18 at 0:32
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There is a strong connection between the US Democratic party and the National Education Association.

The National Education Association is basically a teacher's union. The vast majority of its members are teachers and/or administrators in public schools. With that given, it's probably fairly clear (and understandable) that the NEA considers funding for public schools to be a high priority, and anything that could (even potentially) reduce that funding as seriously problematic.

The NEA has around 3 million members, spends quite a bit on lobbying, and makes substantial contributions directly to election funds and such (enough to rank as the third largest political donor in the US, according to opensecrets.org).

The NEA is heavily Democratic. For example, in the 2016 election cycle, their expenditures for Democrats/against Republicans totaled about $6 million. Their total in the other direction totaled $268 (again, from opensecrets.org).

So, the NEA contributes a lot of money and votes to the Democratic party. Specifically, enough for the NEA to be one of the single largest voices within the Democratic party.

With that background in place, it becomes fairly clear that Democrats are likely to take extremely careful consideration of the NEA's viewpoint in any discussion that might affect public education.

In fairness, I should probably add that in a fair number of cases, Democrats (both politicians and just normal voters) might well take similar positions in any case. It's fairly easy to see public schools as relatively egalitarian, and private schools/home schooling as relatively elitist. That would probably lead many Democrats to favor public schools over alternatives, regardless of the NEA or any other group specifically taking that position.

With that background in place, let's consider the Cruz amendment. It would not directly reduce funding for public schools--but it would probably make home schooling or private schools a little more feasible for a few more people. Although the amendment wouldn't directly affect funding (and such) for public schools, in the long term anything that makes alternative education feasible for more people could lead to a reduction in the status of public schooling.

Reference

OpenSecrets.org NEA summary

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    Comments have been made elsethread that the connection to the NEA is irrelevant. I'm going to go on record disagreeing. The question asked was "why", and the answer to that question is primarily the Democrats' connection to the NEA. Any "answer" that ignores the NEA is clearly incomplete, and largely answering "why" with "because they do", which isn't really an answer at all. – Jerry Coffin Dec 31 '17 at 16:14
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    When I asked this question the answer I had in mind was what the Democrats' arguments were, but this is good background information about what motivates them to take the position they do. It's especially helpful since Wyden's argument given in the accepted answer seems weak to me but makes more sense with this background. Thanks and +1. – Null Jan 1 '18 at 5:00
  • @JerryCoffin - Unlike previous comments (and the other, highly-downvoted answer) making the linkage between the NEA and the DNC, this is actually a solid writeup. That said, I think you should emphasize the linkage back to the Cruz amendment, since that was what the question is about. – Bobson Jan 2 '18 at 1:16
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First of all, the question is wrong. Cruz' proposal would have allowed using a 529 for all elementary and secondary school expenses, not just for home schooling. I suspect that the home-schooling was only thrown in as red meat for his constituents, but was not the main target of the proposal. Primarily, this proposal was intended as a tax giveaway to wealthy parents.

A 529 plan is intended as a savings/investment plan, much like a 401(k), that allows middle-class parents to save for years or decades for their children's college expenses. It is tax free as an incentive for middle-class parents to save early and for a long time.

K-12 tuition is not recognized by the IRS as a valid tax deduction; parents have to pay for it out of their after-tax income.

Cruz' proposal would have created a loophole only open to wealthy parents: they could set up a 529 for their children, contribute to it pre-tax, and immediately use it to pay elementary/secondary tuition. For wealthy parents, a 529 for college expenses doesn't make too much sense; they can afford to simply pay cash, and often have better investment options available outside the 529 plan.

Middle-class parents, on the other hand, usually can't afford to raid their 529 plans for elementary/secondary tuition.

So Cruz plan would have turned a middle-class incentive to save into a tax loophole for the wealthy.

Update:

The source for this was not a formal Democratic Party statement, but rather two editorials in the New York Times.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/19/opinion/republican-taxes-school-savings-.html https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/21/your-money/529-plans-taxes-private-school.html

The second of these editorials points out two more relevant points:

  • The homeschooling part was removed for technical reasons. It doesn't go into details about what role the Democrats played in that removal.
  • The new provision favors wealthy parents even more than I described above. This is because middle class parents may be forced to drain their 529 plan to pay for school tuition if they want to send their children to a private school.
  • Is this an argument the Democrats actually make or is it just your personal opinion? Please cite a source if the former. – Null Jan 2 '18 at 2:11
  • Also, I asked specifically about the homeschooling part of Cruz's amendment because that's the part that did not pass. Furthermore, as others have pointed out it's more difficult to verify that 529 funds are used for educational expenses in a homeschooling setting than in a private school setting (since the private school charges tuition). It's possible the Democrats are okay with using 529s for private schools but not homeschooling. That doesn't make the question "wrong". – Null Jan 2 '18 at 2:14
  • It was an argument actually made, but it was from memory. I neither recall specifically who made it, nor the source. I also do not remember if it was an official Democratic statement, or an editorial on a site like CNN or the New York Times. If I find it, I will edit my answer. – Kevin Keane Jan 3 '18 at 5:37
  • Thanks for the update. The arguments given in the linked articles seem stronger to me than Wyden's argument, so +1. – Null Jan 3 '18 at 14:48

protected by Philipp Dec 30 '17 at 12:38

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