Marco Rubio’s school choice bill stuck in committee

Nine months ago, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., shined a national spotlight on school choice by introducing a bill to create a federal tax credit scholarship program for low-income families. Since then, the Educational Opportunities Act has languished in its first committee.

Sen. Rubio

Sen. Rubio

A spokeswoman for Rubio’s office in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on what that might mean or where the proposal, which hasn’t garnered any additional sponsors, is headed.

Its predicament isn’t unexpected.

Democrats are the majority party in the U.S. Senate, and a Democrat chairs the Senate Finance Committee, where the bill was referred in February. And while Democrats are increasingly embracing school choice, including private school vouchers and tax credit scholarships, it remains politically sensitive for many of them.

Rubio’s bill, his first in Congress, creates a federal corporate and individual tax credit, and allows contributions to go to a scholarship granting organization. Dollars are distributed to needy families, who use the money to help pay for private school tuition or expenses. The proposal mirrors scholarship programs that exist in 11 states, including the nation’s largest in Florida, which serves about 60,000 students. (Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that co-hosts this blog, administers the Florida program).

The House companion to Rubio’s bill may get more traction.

Introduced in March by U.S. House Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican from Indiana, it was referred that month to the Ways and Means Committee, of which Rokita is a member. In July, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education,  which Rokita chairs. It has nine sponsors, all Republicans.

Rokita’s office did not respond to requests for comment. But in a prepared statement from earlier this year, Rokita offered his reasons for introducing the legislation: “For too long, bureaucrats and power brokers in Washington, D.C., have kept millions of families from accessing a full range of education options,’’ he said. “The hardest-hit victims have been those trapped in failing school systems who don’t have the means to choose another school. This bill returns power to where it belongs – parents and families – and gives them a ladder of opportunity.’’

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