School choice easier for the wealthy
The Trump tax law passed before Christmas will make paying for private and parochial schools easier for families that are able to afford private education.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos is pleased with this progress toward her School Choice goals, but she admits that it will not bring School Choice within reach for children in poor families.
Under the new tax law families with a 529 tax-advantage college savings plan will be able to use that money to pay for private and parochial schools.
Parents contribute to the 529 plan using after-tax dollars, but earnings are tax-deferred while the funds are invested and those earnings are tax-free if they are used for tuition or approved educational expenses.
Families will now be able to use up to $10,000 of those tax-free earnings for private schools.
The 529 savings plan will offer a new way to help wealthy people ensure that their children do not need to go to public schools.
Education in West Virginia will probably not be greatly affected by this subtle change in tax law.
Few Mountaineers have savings in 529 tax-advantage savings plans, and those who have them will continue to save for college.
However, those who have decided to pay for private or parochial schools may be able to take advantage of the new tax law.
Another facet of the new tax law that may impact education is the end of federal tax deductions for paying state and local taxes for most tax payers.
Public schools are funded by local property taxes and most states use state taxes to help even out the differences in local taxes based on property values.
They try to keep the amount spent on each child in the state nearly equal to the amount spent on other students.
Public schools are the biggest item on most state budgets, and if people pay less for state and local taxes, public education will suffer.
In West Virginia we are losing our school-age population at a rapid rate, and that decline causes special problems for school funding in rural areas.
It may cost about as much to keep a school open for 10 children as it does for 50 because the system is required to provide the same services in all schools.
However, the full-time-equivalent funding formula does not take the rural school dilemma into account.
If even a few local students go to a private school or begin home schooling, that change reduces the budget for rural schools.
We need to have more funding in rural public school systems, not less.