Repeat of Backdoor Vouchers

This legislative session is in full swing and, as usual, Backdoor Vouchers are rearing their ugly heads again.  The ever increasing move to privatize public education seems relentless.

Simply put, school Voucher programs fund private schools and services using public tax dollars.  So what then is different about a “Backdoor Voucher” also referred to as a “Neo-Voucher”?   New and creative names, not quite so forthright, but they do the same thing, allow public school dollars to be diverted to private school programs or used for tuition for private and/or religious schools.

We’d like to draw your attention to a bill that falls into this category of a Backdoor Voucher.  HB20-1034 Income Tax Deduction for 529 Account K-12 Kindergarten through 12th Grade Expenses.

As is stated in the Bill Summary, “Current law allows contributions to a qualified state tuition program, also known as a 529 account, so long as distributions are used for qualified higher education expenses, with some exceptions, but not for elementary and secondary tuition expenses.”

529 accounts were created to help families save for college or a “qualified higher education expense”.  This bill seeks to change Colorado law to align it with the federal Tax Cuts & Job Acts implemented under Betsy DeVos’ blessing and guidance in 2017.

As Jeff Bryant (writing for Education Opportunity Network) explains in his article, “Republican Tax Plan Opens Backdoor to Federally-supported School Vouchers”, under the guise of expanding school choice, “Congress put into their tax plan new provisions that will have essentially the same impact as a federally-supported school voucher program…” redirecting millions from public education into private schools.

To use Bryant’s own words, “…whereas vouchers distribute public education funds directly to parents to pay for private schools, these new schemes bring K-12 school vouchers in through the backdoor by using the tax code.”

He goes on to explain, “…the tax code allows parents who have tax-free 529 college savings accounts to use…up to $10,000 a year per child – to pay for private K-12 school expenses, including tuition at religious schools.”

As this Chalkbeat article from 2017 points out,

“With its recent adoption of a tax credit scholarship program, Illinois became the 18th state to adopt an innocuously named — but highly controversial — policy that critics have described as a “backdoor voucher.”

“… by injecting a middle layer into the government’s support of private school tuition, tax credits help avoid some of the legal and political obstacles that have dogged efforts by advocates, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to promote school choice through vouchers.”

The bill is sponsored by Jeffco’s own Rep. Colin Larson (HD22), who sponsored the same bill last year, HB19-1123, and is also a member of the House Education Committee.

HB20-1034 is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee on February 6.

We’d like to encourage you to send a message to our legislators early on that Coloradans do not support diverting public education dollars to fund private or religious schools.   Here are the names and email address of the members of the Colorado House Education Committee:

House Education Committee:

Rep. Barbara McLachlan  (Chair) –

Rep. Bri Buentello (Vice Chair) –

Rep. Mark Baisley –

Rep. Perry Buck –

Rep. Janet Buckner –

Rep. James Coleman –

Rep. Lisa Cutter –

Rep. Tony Exum, Sr. –

Rep. Tim Geitner –

Rep. Julie McCluskie –

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet –

Rep. James Wilson –

Rep. Colin Larson –