Current Issues in Public Policy
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (new tax reform bill)
There are several education provisions in the new tax law that may benefit Catholic school students and teachers. The first three items were targeted for elimination but were preserved thanks to some advocacy and support from thousands of members of the Catholic and private school communities who contacted their senators and representatives.
- Free or reduced tuition for children of Catholic school employees will remain tax-free.
- Educational assistance of up to $5,250 annually (tuition, professional development, etc.) for school employees will remain tax-free.
- Teacher tax deduction: A $250 deduction for expenses incurred by elementary and secondary school teachers for professional development or instructional materials they purchase for their classroom is continued. The attempts to increase that to $500 were not successful.
- Expansion of 529 Accounts. In the past, funds invested in 529 savings accounts could only be used for college expenses. Under the new bill, up to $10,000 can be distributed annually to pay for the cost of sending a child to a "public, private or religious elementary or secondary school as well as for college expenses and earning on gains are not federally taxed.
The 529 expansion is a significant step in the ongoing quest for financially supported school choice. This will benefit many families who can contribute funds into accounts for their children where the gains may be withdrawn tax-free. In many states, the principal contributed to the plan is deductible for state income taxes but state laws on this point vary widely. Also, the availability of an account with tax advantages for contributors in certain states may incentivize assistance from friends or family who may not have otherwise assisted.
Catholic schools should work with their all of their families to alert them to this new provision of the 529 program. For those families, immediate and extended, who can contribute to a 529 account it is important to follow implementation guidance from the IRS as well as consultation with an accountant or financial adviser to determine if a 529 account is appropriate.
However, most families of modest or low income may not be able to take advantage of such a program and will need assistance such as tax-credit scholarship programs, vouchers, education savings accounts and other choice programs to enable them to exercise their right to select the best school for their children. The private school community will continue to advocate for the $20 billion tax credit program that was part of President Trump’s campaign promises.
E-rate Program Application Period is Now Open
The E-rate application window will be open from Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 12:00 noon EST until Thursday, March 22, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. EDT.
As part of the modernization of E-rate, there is expanded funding to support broadband and Wi-Fi networks to connect all classrooms as digital learning centers. There is an allocation for each school that has not received internal connections in prior years and Catholic schools should take advantage of it. This is an opportunity for all schools in all discount levels to begin to build their networks and the infrastructure to support e-learning devices in all classrooms.
Additional information about the program can be found on the NCEA E-rate website and the program guidance pages of the USAC website.
U.S. Department of Education School Ambassador Fellowship Program
Applications for the U.S. Department of Education School Ambassador Fellowship Program are now available. The School Ambassador Fellowship is designed to improve education for students by involving educators in the development and implementation of national education policy. Private school educators are encouraged to apply.
The White House has released guidance documents for developing high-quality emergency operations plans for schools, institutions of higher education and houses of worship. These guides have been jointly produced by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Education and Health & Human Services on this critical topic.
These emergency planning guides are customized to each type of community and can be used to revise or create new plans and align them with emergency planning practices at the national, state, and local levels.
Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans
In addition, the FEMA Emergency Management Institute is offering a free independent study program online: Preparing for Mass Casualty Incidents - A Guide for Schools, Higher Education and Houses of Worship.
IDEA and 504
IDEA is a federal education law that provides services to some students in private schools, depending upon the funding available.
504 is a civil rights law that indicated the nature of a person's disability and the accommodations required. Private schools, even if they participate in the federal nutrition programs, are not required to write 504 plans — that is the responsibility of the local public school district.
The Catholic school accommodations plan is sufficient. See this article pertaining to 504 plans.