The other problem with 529s for school choice: Yesterday, Dropout Nation
explained why the plan by Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration to transform 529 higher education savings vehicles to expand school choice does little for poor and minority communities who lack the incomes and wealth to use them. But the more your editor and others think through the plan itself, the more it becomes clear that it will even harm middle-class families as well as damage efforts to ensure that all children attain higher education they need for success in adulthood.
How is that possible? Start with how 529s currently work — and how the Congressional Republican proposal would pervert it.
When a family contributes to a 529 plan, they are looking to grow the dollars they put in so that at least a portion of higher ed tuition costs are covered. This is done over time by investing contributions of up to $14,000 a year (or $70,000 in one year to cover a five-year period) into mutual funds as well as money market accounts similar to certificates of deposit issued by banks. Over time, those initial dollars (as well as additional contributions over time) should grow thanks to investment growth and interest compounding.
But this isn’t possible if families start tapping 529 accounts to pay for private school tuition costs or even tutoring expenses. Why? Because the more money siphoned off from contributions to elementary and secondary education expenses, the less money will go towards college savings.
Say a family contributes to the full maximum of $14,000 a year. [Most never do.] They may be able to avoid cutting into long-term college savings if they limit K-12 expenses to around $4,000 a year. But the average private school tuition in the United States is $7,700, according to the U.S. Department of Education — and in many places such as Maryland, private-school tuition is even higher. Put simply, the more money spent out of the 529 on private school and tutoring costs, the less money will be saved for college. They also lose out on future investment gains and interest compounding in the process.
Some of these issues would have been avoided if Congressional Republicans chose instead to expand the use of Flexible Spending Accounts — which are used to pay for preschool and child care expenses as well as medical costs — for use to fund private-school tuition and other K-12 expenditures. That move would have been even better for families who already use those plans because those are funded through paycheck withholding and would be supported by the 20 percent federal child care tax credit already in place. But this wasn’t likely proposed.
One reason lies with Heritage Foundation and its education czar, Lindsey Burke, who have been the prime proponents of the 529 expansion. The other lies with the overall intent of Congressional Republicans to pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cut. The proposals in House Resolution 1, along with the 529 transformation, likely have the affect of decimating American higher education. If successful, those moves will damage the futures of children regardless of background to gain knowledge they need for lifelong success.
This effort against higher education includes the proposed elimination of the lifelong learning credit of $2,000 (which is used to by nontraditional collegians to offset the cost of tuition), the $5,250-per-person deduction given to companies that offer higher ed tuition assistance programs to their employees, and changes that would only reduce the percentage of taxpayers who can reduce their tax burdens by itemizing donations to universities and nonprofits from 30 percent to five percent.
Viewed against those other moves, the expansion of the use of 529s for use on K-12 costs would damage higher education by making it even harder for families to save for the tuition costs. Which means that this is an even worse plan for children than even I realized. When you add in all of the other proposed changes to the tax code that also harm families — including the elimination of deductions for medical savings accounts and adoption expenses — the Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration can be accused of waging war on the efforts of middle-class and even poor families to help their children survive and succeed.
Intent Makes a Movement: One of the most-interesting questions this week was incidentally raised by Columbia University scholar and New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb in his response to an essay by University of Virginia Professor Fred Schauer on whether the White Supremacist protest that led to mayhem and carnage (including the murder of Heather Heyer) last August should lead cities to find ways to restrict the free speech and assembly rights of protestors. That question? How do you distinguish between movements and mobs.
In his piece, Cobb attempts to argue that the difference between a movement and a mob lies with whether the goals are primal or not. From where he sits, the Unite the Right protestors were the latter because their goals are driven by racial bigotry, which makes them primal (based on tribalism that is hard-set in all of us). On that front, I would argue that he is incorrect. This is because what distinguishes movements from mobs isn’t their goals, but their organization and their intent.
All movements are primal in some way. Movements to end colonialism and oppression, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s effort to end British colonialism of India, are driven by the urge to be free. Those that oppress, such as the Nazis and other 20th-century Fascists (as well as the American White Supremacists off which they partly modeled themselves) appeal to authoritarian instincts.
Even the modern school reform movement, is driven in part by primal urges. In this case, the desire for learning as well as to protect the most-vulnerable, the latter being derivative of the maternal and paternal instincts most parents have for their children. Traditionalists, in turn, are also driven in part by the urge to protect the influence and power they have gained over time.
To dismiss the desire to act on primal instinct as either base or merely a province of mobs is to ignore the noble and ignoble feelings that drive both positive and negative social movements.
What differs a movement from a mob is organization and effort. They are intentional. Which is why what happened in Charlottesville (as well as the White Supremacist rally that happened last month in Shelbyville, Tenn.) are so troubling.
As Vice and other outlets have reported , the new-era White Supremacists behind Charlottesville spent months planning their protests before they finally descended on the Virginia college town. This included discussions on the Daily Stormer and other forums about logistics, messages, even what weapons to bring to the event. Given that they prepared for violence, White Supremacists such as Jason Kessler and Chris Cantwell expected Heyer’s murder, as well as the anticipated that their allies would brutally assault counter-protestors such as DeAndre Harris.
The Unite the Right players, in turn, are part of a larger White Supremacist movement that extends far beyond their numbers that day in Charlottesville. As Buzzfeed noted last month an investigative piece, those ideological and political ties extend to Breitbart, the media outlet controlled by Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, both of which have played key roles in sustaining the presidential campaign of the current Occupant of the White House and his administration. It also extends to President Donald Trump himself, who put White Supremacists such as Bannon on his White House staff, as well as gave comfort to the Unite the Right crowd after the carnage and mayhem by claiming that that they were “good people”.
Trump and the White Supremacist protestors, in turn, share the same intent: Official state discrimination against Black, Latino, Asian and immigrant men, women, and children. The latter advances this intent through protests, violence, media campaigns, and their own interactions with people Black and Brown. The former and his administration do so through policy, legislation, and executive branch action, all of which has been documented by this publication. In fact, the Trump Administration is merely doing under the business of the White Supremacists that support it.
Mobs don’t have tax-exempt statuses and corporate filings. Movements do.
Put simply, the new-era White Supremacists end up in Charlottesville and Shelbyville are as intentional as any positive social movement. Nothing they do is accidental or incidental; they intend on relegating poor and minority communities . They may be the opposite of the Black Lives Matter and school reform movements of today. But the new-age White Supremacists are still a movement, one that resembles the Klu Klux Klan during its golden age of 1920s (when it counted at least two million members — ncluding eventual U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black– and actually controlled Indiana’s state government) and the collection of White Citizens Councils, Klan groups, and Southern politicians who opposed the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
So all of us opposed to them, especially those within the school reform movement, must deal seriously with their intent and their organization. We must address the immorality of their beliefs and the anti-intellectualism of their ideas and proposals. Simply dismissing them as a mob, especially for the illiberal (and unacceptable) purpose of stamping out their liberty, will never work.