Cruz's $5B school voucher proposal makes Senate GOP's 'skinny' coronavirus stimulus bill - HoustonChronicle.com
By: Benjamin Wermund (HoustonChronicle. com)
The slimmed-down GOP stimulus bill will offer the first vote on a school choice proposal that Sen. Ted Cruz has pushed since early 2019. The program would offer up to $5 billion in federal tax credits for those who donate to state-approved scholarship programs for private and religious schools or home schooling.Photo: Alex Brandon, STF / Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The slimmed-down GOP stimulus bill that the Senate is expected to vote on this week includes a school voucher bill that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has long pushed with the help of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Cruz reportedly had vowed to sink any stimulus package in the Senate that didn't include his $5 billion federal school choice tax credit proposal meant to encourage donations to scholarship funds for private schools. But similar school choice measures have been opposed even by some of Cruz's Republican colleagues and could sour the package for them, though Cruz said Wednesday he was confident the relief package would have full GOP support.
The legislation — which also includes provisions championed by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn to protect businesses against lawsuits related to the pandemic — is the latest attempt in Congress to pass another round of coronavirus relief as the Senate GOP, House Democrats and White House have so far failed to reach an agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants the Senate to vote on the proposal as early as Thursday.
The Senate proposal, which Republicans have described as targeted relief, doesn't yet have a final price tag, but it will be significantly smaller than the $3 trillion package the House passed earlier this year — and it's far from what the White House has sought, with Trump administration officials floating a price tag of at least $1 trillion.
It would offer $300 in unemployment benefits into December, would open up the Paycheck Protection Program for a second round of loans and would offer billions for schools — most of which would be reserved for those that open for in-person instruction. The proposal notably does not include another round of stimulus checks.
Cruz said in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday that he doubted the package would even pass the Senate, predicting Democrats would filibuster.
But the package nonetheless will offer the first vote on a school choice proposal that Cruz has pushed since early 2019. The program would offer up to $5 billion in federal tax credits for those who donate to state-approved scholarship programs for private and religious schools or home schooling.
Cruz said it's important legislation to pass now, especially for families with children who attend schools that have yet to reopen for in-person instruction.
"Millions of kids — their education is on hold," Cruz said. "And that's a tragedy. That's a tragedy for those kids. Every day and every week they're left behind. It's a tragedy for those families whose parents aren't able to resume work again."
The legislation has been championed by DeVos and even President Donald Trump, who touted it in his State of the Union address this year.
But it could well drain some Republican support for the recovery package. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, for instance, broke ranks to vote against DeVos' nomination in 2017, in part because of her long record of pushing school choice policies that are unpopular in some of the rural areas they represent.
Cruz said he doubted that would happen with this legislation.
"Lets wait and see the vote," Cruz said. "I think we're going to get all or virtually all Republicans."