This week, I introduced the School Choice Now Act with my Republican colleague from South Carolina, Senator Tim Scott.
This legislation does two important things: First: It protects scholarships to students so they have the opportunity to return to the private school they attended before the pandemic, and it gives Tennessee families more options for their children’s education at a time when school is more important than ever.
Children in all K–12 schools, public and private schools alike, have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are 100,000 public schools across our country serving 50 million students, and there are another 35,000 private schools serving 5 million students. Many of those schools, public and private, are choosing not to reopen in person this fall, and many schools are failing to provide high-quality distance learning.
The students who will suffer the most from this are low-income children – the children from families where parents work away from home every day and are unable to oversee or assist with distance learning, children with no internet, families who can’t afford to put a child in a private school if the public school is not open. These are the parents and children who have the greatest need. Just as more families need more options, there are fewer scholarships available to help them choose private schools because there has been less charitable giving as a result of the pandemic. So for low-income students attending private schools on a scholarship that can mean a heartbreaking end to their time at school and can force a transfer to a new school that may not meet their needs at all.
Second: This bill would also provide permanent dollar-for-dollar federal tax credits for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations. What this means is that any American taxpayer who makes a charitable donation to nonprofits that provide scholarships to students will receive a credit on their federal taxes equal to the amount the taxpayer donated. The same goes for private companies that make donations to these organizations.
This bill is about one of the great principles of what it means to be an American: the principle of equal opportunity. For me, equal opportunity means creating an environment in which the largest number of people can begin at the starting line. When everyone is at the starting line in America, anything is possible. Giving children more opportunity to attend a better school is the real answer to inequality in America.