Tax Benefits and Fairness in K–12 Education
This Article examines the tax law’s subsidies for inequality and segregation in primary and secondary education, analyzing the federal charitable deduction and education savings plans, and state tax credits for education. It argues that the tax system diverts funds from traditional public education into private education, fostering economic, racial, religious, and political separation. The tax law also operates to increase resource inequality within public education by subsidizing schools that affluent children attend. In a novel analysis, the Article contends that the jurisprudence around the charitable deduction for education—though longstanding—is legally incoherent, and argues that no deduction should ever be allowed for parental payments to schools their children attend, whether designated as tuition or gifts. Although the tax law cannot fully solve the problems plaguing primary and secondary education, it is important to recognize the ways that benefits delivered through the tax law encourage and subsidize segregation and stratification in childhood education, along multiple dimensions— socioeconomic, racial, political, and religious. Tax benefits operate to delegate substantial control over childhood education to private organizations and individuals, undermining the civic role of public education. Along with many other areas of the law, the tax law could better promote democratic values in education.
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