DeVos expected to reveal school choice plan at local event

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is reportedly coming to Indianapolis on Monday to speak at the annual summit for the American Federation of Children, a pro-voucher education reform group she used to lead.

Politico first reported that DeVos was “expected to offer details about the Trump administration’s vision for a federal investment in school choice” in a speech in Indianapolis on Monday.

The U.S. Department of Education did not immediately reply to IBJ’s request for comment, and the schedule posted online for the summit does not mention DeVos’ presence.

The two-day event will feature several other well-known names, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Mind Trust President David Harris, Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, Hoosiers for Quality Education President Betsy Wiley and others.

Holcomb said in a written statement that the conference was “a great opportunity to share our state’s ongoing work to give all students a quality education that prepares them for success after graduation.”

But DeVos’ visit is being opposed by the Indiana State Teachers Association. In a statement released Friday morning “in anticipation” of DeVos’ speech, ISTA President Teresa Meredith criticized the education budget put out by Trump and DeVos, which, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post, would cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives and invest more heavily in school choice programs, including charter schools and vouchers.

“The Trump-DeVos agenda threatens to shrink, rather than expand, students’ chances for success,” Meredith said in the statement. “Betsy DeVos lacks awareness and understanding of even the most basic education issues—having never worked in a public school, attended a public school or sent her children to a public school. As Congress contemplates the Trump-DeVos education budget, I urge them to listen to educators and parents—the real experts on what our public schools need.”

DeVos is expected to propose a national plan for education tax credit scholarships. That's different from a voucher program, which funnels tax dollars to pay for student tuition at private schools.

The American Federation for Children stated in a recent press release that “AFC believes a federal tax credit to inspire charitable giving by corporations and individuals to state non-profits who provide scholarships for eligible children to attend a school of their parents’ choice would have the greatest impact for children in need.”

Tax-credit scholarships are already offered to more than 257,000 students in 17 states—including Indiana, where 9,424 scholarships were awarded in 2015-16.

The Indiana program, which launched in 2010, allows individuals and corporations to claim a 50 percent tax credit for contributions to approved not-for-profits that provide private school scholarships to children from families earning less than 200 percent of what’s necessary to qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

The total amount of tax credits awarded statewide was previously capped at $9.5 million, but this year, lawmakers expanded the program. It is capped at $12.5 million in claimable tax credits in the first year of the new two-year budget and $14 million the second year.

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