Putting Education Reform To The Test

Rubio Proposes Federal Private School Scholarship Program

Saul Loeb / AFP

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union last night. He also proposed a federal tax credit scholarship similar to a program in Florida.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is proposing a federal tax credit to provide private school scholarships to students in low-income families.

The program is similar to a Florida tax credit scholarship program approved in 2001. More than 50,000 students are enrolled in the Florida program, claiming $229 million in benefits.

Individuals could claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for up to $4,500 in annual donations to groups awarding private school scholarships under Rubio’s plan, according to The Miami Herald. Businesses could claim tax credits for up to $100,000 in donations.

Students in families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for the program. For a family of four that totals $58,875.

Rubio told The Miami Herald the bill is intended to give poor children the same school opportunities as wealthier families:

If Florida’s experience is any measure, though, Democrats, teacher unions and some church-and-state separatists will oppose the scholarship-voucher program, saying it indirectly uses tax money to fund private, and often religious education.

“It’s not about unions. It’s not about school administrators,” Rubio said in an interview. “This is about parents. The only parents in America who don’t have a choice where their kids go to school are poor parents.”

Though Rubio’s rhetoric adopts longstanding Democratic talking points about the disadvantaged, the legislation will have a tough time in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

Rubio told the paper he sought advice from former Gov. Jeb Bush on the proposal. Bush was the driving force behind Florida’s program and is a Rubio mentor.

Rubio is considered a leading 2016 Republican presidential possibility.

Florida is one of 11 states with a private school scholarship program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most states provide less than a dollar-for-dollar tax credit match for donations.

A state analysis found Florida saved $1.50 for every $1 donated to the tax credit scholarship program. But those savings would be less if donations to the program exceed the scholarship amount sought by students.


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