This change in tax law will largely benefit the rich, providing families that are aware and take advantage of 529 plans—families that are predominantly wealthy and can likely already afford private education—with a $10,000 tax deduction. (It’s worth noting that since 529 plans are administered by states and some states have stipulations in place that don’t comply with the new rule, families who make withdrawals could face high state-tax bills or tax penalties, depending on the state in which they live.) This deduction also creates an incentive for parents to take their children out of public schools and put them in private ones. Without those pupils, many public-school systems could get less money—but have the same overhead costs—because they rely on enrollment numbers to qualify for much of their funding.
The Republican plan also caps the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000. Public schools receive most of their funding from these state and local taxes, and with the cap, many may have a more difficult time finding the money they need to keep their doors open. “It is nothing more than a massive transfer of wealth—a giveaway to corporate special interests and the wealthy paid for by working families and students,” the National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement. According to an analysis from the NEA (which represents more than 3 million teachers, school staff, and administrators and has historically supported Democratic candidates), the tax law would, over the next 10 years, blow a $150 billion hole in state and local revenue earmarked for elementary and secondary schools, putting more than 130,000 education jobs at risk. California would lose more than $35 billion in funding, New York $31 billion. Individual schools will have to come up with millions of dollars to make up for the shortfalls; those in poorer districts will be hit the hardest, as they already receive insufficient funding to begin with.
“We already have a huge teacher shortage due to multiple factors,” said Jose Vilson, a middle-school math teacher in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. “Losing that many teachers would only exacerbate the issues of large class sizes, special-needs students not getting serviced, lack of arts and music classes, and the over-reliance on narrow measures of learning.” To Vilson’s latter point: With fewer teachers and subsequently larger class sizes, educators often have less of an opportunity to provide students with the sort of individualized learning opportunities that come with having a smaller group of students, and that are most closely correlated with increased student achievement and developing deeper, more conceptual understandings of various subjects.
Many GOP governors have already slashed billions of dollars in public-school funding, often redirecting education funding toward programs like vouchers, although recent research suggests that vouchers may not have the unequivocally positive impact that its proponents espoused. In fact, as Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation has noted, recent studies have found that the educational achievement of students who received vouchers to attend private schools has often suffered. In one study, the Brookings Institution’s Mark Dynarski found that voucher students scored lower on reading and math tests than similar students who remained in public school and that, more broadly, the assumed academic superiority of private schools as compared to public schools is no longer necessarily true.