With New Congressional Leadership, Voucher Peddlers Take Their Grift to D.C.

Last week, congressional Republicans finally chose a Speaker of the House after weeks of intra-party fights. Since far-right Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) successfully ousted fellow Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Oct. 3, Congress had been at a virtual standstill. Despite their majority, Republicans had been unable to settle on a speaker candidate, as center-right Republicans seemed unwilling to vote for a far-right member of their caucus and the far-right Republicans seemed unwilling to elect a compromise candidate.

In a somewhat pyrrhic victory for the far-right, last Thursday, Republicans finally agreed to elect Congressman Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) as Speaker of the House. Despite his relatively low national profile prior to being elected speaker, Johnson is closely associated with the far-right and adheres to those hardline views, as evidenced by his leading role in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Despite weeks of backlogged work on the House floor due to the vacancy in the speaker’s office, the House Ways and Means Committee convened Thursday to discuss vouchers, a clear indication of what is to come under the new House speaker’s leadership.

The one-sided committee hearing, prejudicially branded as the “hearing on Educational Freedom and Opportunity for American Families, Students, and Workers,” featured no public education advocates as speakers, and the witness list was headlined by the billionaire-funded voucher peddler Corey DeAngelis. DeAngelis is a Senior Fellow with the American Federation for Children, which is funded by billionaire Betsy DeVos. We covered the Texas arm of the group in a previous edition of the Hotline.

The core topic of discussion during the hearing was expanding the uses for 529 tax-exempt education accounts. Currently, many parents use this special investment account to save for higher education costs.These accounts are tax-advantaged: the investment growth of the contributions to this account are tax-free, but may only be withdrawn to pay for higher education expenses. 

Voucher peddlers seek to co-opt these 529 accounts to push their scam by funding these accounts with taxpayer dollars and expanding their usage to pay for K-12 private schools. One bill discussed, the “Educational Choice for Children Act” by Congressman Mike Kelly (R-Pennsylvania), would provide individuals and corporations with tax credits if they fund private school voucher programs. Similar proposals had been pushed in Texas, including as recently as the 88th regular legislative session.
In a full and total rejection of the premise of private school vouchers, Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), a long-time member of the House Ways and Means Committee, called the plans to divert taxpayer dollars to private schools “an attempt to undermine our public schools.” Doggett referenced the repeated, failed attempts by Gov. Greg Abbott to pass his private school voucher schemes by holding public school funding hostage. Watch Doggett’s full comments below.