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While Private, Discriminatory Schools Win in the Gianforte-Daines Tax Bill, Montana Public Schools Lose

While public education, teachers, and students will take a beating in the Gianforte-Daines tax bill, unaccountable, unaccredited, unsupervised private schools will make a killing, with a provision allowing those wealthy enough to attend private schools to take a $10,000 deduction from a savings program that was designed for college savings. From the New York Times:

Parents would be eligible to use a type of tax-preferred savings plan — known as a 529 plan — to save for their children’s elementary and secondary education. Right now, those savings plans are only eligible for college. But they would be expanded to allow for up to $10,000 a year for tuition at private and religious schools.

The proposal, written by Ted Cruz and seen as a win by school privatization advocates like Betsy DeVos, doesn’t help poor students, as Mother Jones notes. Instead, it gives those wealthy enough to afford expensive private schools a tax break:

Rather, the expansion would represent “a decent-sized government handout to people who would send their kid to private school anyway,” Chingos says. “If you are trying to save up enough to send your child to a Catholic school for $6,000 a year, the tax benefit on those savings isn’t going to be that much,” he adds. “If you know you are going to send your child to a fancy private school in DC that costs $40,000 a year, then you could start stocking money away into one of these accounts and get a pretty big tax benefit. But who’s going to get that? It’s going to be pretty wealthy people.”

As we have chronicled here at the blog a number of times, there are significant reasons to oppose tax dollars going to private, religious institutions. Among the most significant is the simple fact that many, like Greg Gianforte’s own Petra Academy, have admissions, academic, and discipline policies that are discriminatory, both against students with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. While any parent should have the right to send her child to the school of her choice, it’s simply wrong to allow tax breaks for schools that, like Gianforte’s school, make it impossible for a student with disabilities to get the minor accommodations necessary for success.

And the bill doesn’t even limit the tax breaks to private schools. Anyone can apparently claim that they are homeschooling and deduct the expenses as well:

That Gianforte would vote for a bill that encourages tax breaks for these kinds of schools is hardly surprising, but it should be shocking that they would support the damage it will do to Montana public schools.

While the Republican tax bill benefits wealthy families who attend private schools like Petra Academy, it does actual harm to public school funding. From the American Association of School Administrators:

“We have provisions that are incentivizing parents to keep students in private schools or send them to private schools. If there’s going to be tax breaks in the bill, giving it to the parents in the private education system over the public education system doesn’t make any sense.”

The $370 billion hole in public education budgets the Republican tax bill creates will mean that 1,152 Montana teachers will have their jobs put at risk and it will be much more difficult for states to raise money for schools. From the Washington Post:

The proposal curtails the ability of taxpayers to deduct state and local taxes from their federal tax bill, limiting the deduction to $10,000. By increasing the federal tax burden on individuals, advocates worry that states, counties and school boards will have a tougher time raising money for schools, which get most of their resources from state and local tax revenues.

Among the hardest hit will be rural schools, whose leaders fear the bill will make it more challenging to maintain smaller schools and recruit qualified teachers, both of which already present enormous challenges for the small communities that Gianforte and Daines are supposed to represent.

When it comes to education, this bill is not about securing the future of America’s students. Instead, as the School Superintendents Association argues, “there is no indication that this tax plan and those planning to vote for it have an understanding of, or care about, its impact on public schools.” In order to fund a massive transfer of wealth to those who already have the most in this country, Representative Gianforte and Senator Daines are willing to jeopardize the lifeblood of many Montana communities, the schools that hold the towns together and provide an opportunity for their students to succeed. That they’re willing to vote for a bill that will hurt so many Montana kids and benefit a few wealthy families who can already afford private school tuitions shows that neither has the interests of the average Montanan at heart.

Let  Greg Gianforte and Steve Daines know this bill is bad for Montana.

Others in the Gianforte-Daines Tax Bill Series:

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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