Schooled Reporting on education

Homeschoolers get a lump of coal from Congress

Education | Last-minute tax bill changes dashed hopes for tax relief for homeschool education expenses
by Leigh Jones
Posted 1/03/18, 02:33 pm

The tax system overhaul passed just before Christmas hit an unexpected bump just hours after House lawmakers finished celebrating their historic vote. Several items ran afoul of Senate procedural rules and had to be pulled from the bill before final approval. One of those directly affected homeschooling families.

Under the bill, lawmakers expanded 529 educational savings accounts to include private K-12 schooling. They also attempted to include homeschool expenses, a tax benefit the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has lobbied for since 2000.

“We were an inch away from victory,” said William Estrada, HSLDA’s director of federal relations.

Although a procedural hiccup ultimately killed the provision, the vote put every single Democrat in the Senate on record of opposing a tax break for homeschoolers, Estrada said. That squelches hope for getting the measure passed anytime in the near future. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., plans to submit a bill in the House, something he’s done every year, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has offered to sponsor a measure in the upper chamber. But getting something passed will be a “tough row to hoe,” Estrada said, mostly because of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.

While homeschoolers eagerly anticipated the tax advantages 529 plans offer, not all school choice advocates support expanding the accounts to cover K-12 education. The benefits only apply to families who have large chunks of money to set aside, making the 529 expansion primarily a gift to the wealthy. Parents able to set aside small amounts of money each month to save for college can still do that, and reap the benefits over time. But because interest accrues slowly, any gains from small, regular savings would be wiped away if parents pull money out of the accounts to pay for anything before college.

Expanding the 529 plans could also backfire in two big ways. First, private schools could look at the tax savings as “found money” and raise tuition to take a piece—or all—of those funds. Wealthy families might be able to pay more, but families who sacrifice to set aside enough money each month for tuition payments could be priced out. Families diligently saving for college whose children get some form of financial assistance to attend private school also could see those scholarships cut now that schools can take a piece of an established 529 account, even if the parents don’t want to use that money now.

Another unintended consequence: Skewing 529s to benefit wealthy families could make them a target for a future Democratic administration. President Barack Obama tried to limit the tax benefits for 529 plans in 2015, but because they helped parents across all but the lowest income brackets, he couldn’t whip enough support. That might change once families start using the plans to pay for private school. One 529 administrator told The New York Times she now considered the plans a “sitting duck” for lawmakers eager to strip government benefits from wealthy taxpayers.

Sattler College Sattler College Finny Kuruvilla

Boston’s new Christian college

A Boston investment banker has opened a new Christian college that will rely on online courses to help keep costs low. Finny Kuruvilla received approval for Sattler College in 2016 and will welcome the first class of students in the fall.

Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, called Sattler’s model “fascinating” and noted niche colleges that work to keep costs low have a better chance of surviving during a time when other small schools are closing.

Kuruvilla pledged $30 million to get the school off the ground and told The Boston Globe he wanted to create a Christian community where students could develop both spiritually and academically. Sattler intentionally targets homeschoolers and other students willing to try a different educational model. Although not affiliated with any denomination, Sattler’s community standards are based on Anabaptist tenets.

Sattler expects to start with about 25 students and three faculty members, offering majors in business, computer science, human biology, Biblical and religious studies, and history. He hopes eventually to expand the student body to 300. Tuition will run about $9,000 per year. ―L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Emery P. Dalesio Associated Press/Photo by Emery P. Dalesio Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C.

Duke, UNC accused of faculty non-compete deal

A federal judge in North Carolina will hear arguments Thursday in an interesting case encompassing the state’s two higher education rivals: Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A radiologist formerly employed at Duke’s medical school filed the antitrust lawsuit claiming the schools limited employee compensation and career mobility by agreeing not to poach each other’s doctors. The court will consider whether to include all skilled medical workers employed between 2012 and 2017 in the class-action case. The legal team working on the case has a good track record: They won a $415 million settlement from Google Inc., Intel Corp., Adobe Systems Inc., and Apple Inc. in 2015 in a similar case involving internal agreements not to hire each other’s workers. But this suit might not get that far. Dr. Danielle Seaman could settle her claim in exchange for the two schools agreeing to drop their non-compete arrangement. —L.J.

Teaching media discernment

Fake news became part of the national lexicon in 2017, and now it’s becoming part of school curriculum. Legislators in several states passed laws last year requiring schools teach kids how to tell the difference between truth and lies in online content. Washington, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Mexico became the first states to adopt the new teaching requirements, and lawmakers in Arizona, New York, and Hawaii expect to consider similar measures this year. “Five years ago, it was difficult to get people to understand what we were doing and what we wanted to see happen in education and the skills students needed to learn,” said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. “Now there is no question about the vitalness of this in classrooms.” —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

Read more from this writer


  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 01/04/2018 12:19 am

    Kids do not need to learn "media discernment."  They need to learn how to think independently, ask questions, research things, differentiate fact from opinion, and filter hearsay.  They will learn all of these by reading, writing, and 'rithmeticking under firm tutors.

  • Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Thu, 01/04/2018 10:51 am

    Brendan, I understand your stand on principle; however, children DO need to be told--ideally by their parents--that the media regularly lies to them. I am all for learning the academic disciplines, but knowing them alone will not keep one from believing lies. There are plenty of intelligent and learned people serving totalitarian regimes.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 01/04/2018 08:54 pm

    Greg, thanks for your respectful post.  I would leave it alone, but for your statement that "children DO need to be told...that the media regularly lies to them."  That truly disturbs me.  I place that on par with, "The police are out to get you."  How does teaching our children to have a prejudiced view of an entire category of people square with St. Paul's advice to think about wholesome things (Philippians 4:8)?  Did I misunderstand your point?