As the Republican Party edged closer to passing historic tax reform, Democrats in the U.S. Senate used a last-minute procedural protest to attack homeschool families. Their petty complaint struck the short title of the tax reform bill, one provision of the endowment tax, and the extension of college savings plans to homeschool expenses.
The homeschool attack proved particularly revealing. The Republican tax bill would extend the use of 529 tax-advantaged saving plans — originally intended to foster saving for college tuition — to K-12 public and private schools, as well as homeschooling. Rather than complaining that 529s should only be for college, the Democrats struck the homeschool provision, leaving the K-12 school extension in place.
Make no mistake: this was a disgusting attack on the families of approximately 1.5 million American children who are educated at home, perhaps in an attempt to privilege teacher’s unions.
On Tuesday night, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued a joint statement in a last-ditch attempt to halt the passage of the tax reform bill. Ironically, they blamed Republicans for breaking the rules, in the very act of applying the rules as a bludgeon against homeschool families.
“In the mad dash to provide tax breaks for their billionaire campaign contributors, our Republican colleagues forgot to comply with the rules of the Senate,” Sanders and Wyden said. “We applaud the parliamentarian for determining that three provisions in this disastrous bill are in violation of the Byrd rule.”
The Byrd rule lays out six criteria deemed “extraneous” in any reconciliation bill. Presence of these “extraneous” parts of legislation would increase the threshold for a bill to pass the Senate — 60 senators, rather than just 50, would be required to vote for it.
Sanders and Wyden admitted their intent in pushing the Byrd rule: “It is our intention to raise a point of order to remove these provisions from the conference report and require the House to vote on this bill again.”
Ironically, the Democrats attacked the Republicans for supporting the wealthy and corporations — in the very act of eviscerating aid to homeschool families, a likely move to reward their teachers’ union donors. “Instead of providing tax breaks to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations, we need to rebuild the disappearing middle class.”
The upshot of this particular tantrum, however, will not help the middle class against the wealthiest corporations — it will slam homeschool families and one particular college in Kentucky. This complaint also engaged in the petty revision of the tax bill’s short title, as if the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” is an attack on the poor.
The Republican tax reform bill added a new tax on the endowments of wealthy private colleges. This new tax inspired a similar Democratic tantrum, when Wyden himself pushed a special amendment to make sure colleges that reject federal funding would not get a pass from the tax.
In this version, Wyden’s tantrum involved striking the words “tuition-paying” from the tax. This minor complaint would bring Kentucky’s Berea College under the tax.
Berea College is a “work college.” It enrolls mostly low-income students and charges no tuition. Berea enrolls slightly more than 1,600 students, with an endowment of $1 billion. The endowment’s value — around $625,000 per student — passes the cap of $500,000 set by the tax law.
Even so, “that money goes towards helping low-income students attend and finish college,” Steven M. Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Berea College is the crown jewel for what higher education can do for low-income people.”
Lyle D. Roelofs, president of Berea College, emphasized the noble use of the college’s endowment. “Berea College uses its entire endowment to educate students who could not otherwise afford to attend college, serving them on a no-tuition basis,” he said.
“We agree that there need to be incentives for schools to make higher education accessible to all students, but it seems so unfortunate that the political strife over tax reform in our country will result in greater difficulty for colleges seeking to serve low-income students,” Roelofs declared.
The Berea president was spot on. Democrats, in wrangling over tax reform, have only cost the poor students at Berea College — and the thousands of homeschool families across the country.
Politically, Democrats gained little to nothing from this tactic. They prevented tax reform from passing Tuesday night, and pushed it to Wednesday. This is why the homeschool attack proved particularly disgusting.
Again, if Democrats had complained that 529s should only be used for college savings — and therefore should not be employed for K-12 schools, be they private, public, or home schools — that would have been a legitimate complaint. Instead, they targeted homeschooling families, and exempted public schools from their ire.
When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) achieved the amendment to extend 529 savings to K-12 education of all kinds, he made a powerful statement.
“As part of this historic effort, we’ve also invested in our children and expanded educational opportunities, with the expansion of 529’s to include K-12 elementary and secondary school tuition, including educational expenses for homeschool students,” Cruz declared. “By expanding choice for parents and opportunities for children, we have prioritized the education of the next generation of Americans, allowing families to save and prepare for their children’s future educational expenses.”
“Expanding 529’s ensures that each child receives an education that meets their individual needs, instead of being forced into a one-size-fits-all approach to education, or limited to their zip code,” the Texas senator concluded.
By eviscerating the homeschool part of that provision, Democrats have once again attacked educational options.
While Democrats attacked Republicans for allegedly helping their donors in tax reform — which will give a tax cut to almost every single American — Democrats themselves targeted homeschooling families while helping their donors in the teacher’s unions.
Democrats boast about standing up for the poor, while their tantrum will cost the poor students at Berea College and the approximately 1.5 million children educated at home.
Next time Democrats use a stalling tactic to delay key legislation for less than 24 hours, perhaps they should choose only to complain about a bill’s title, rather than targeting the poor and homeschool families.