AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Senator Ted Cruz stopped in Austin to pitch his new education reform plan to businesses. It would give companies and individuals a tax credit for donating to scholarship funds. Parents could use the money to send their children to the elementary or secondary school of their choice.
Senator Cruz spoke with politics reporter Phil Prazan about the plan, and his thoughts on the 2020 presidential race.
PHIL: Your plan is optional for the states. I’ve been here for a couple of years covering the legislature. Similar ideas have been tried and failed. What makes you think that Texas would want to do this?
SEN. CRUZ: So one of the roadblocks school choice programs have run into here in the Texas legislature is the argument that people don’t want to take money out of the public school system. This legislation doesn’t take a penny out of the public school system. It’s adding a total of a hundred billion dollars of new money to education. Fifty billion to K through 12, fifty billion to workforce development for adults. And I think that new money at the state level and the ability to expand choices and competition what we’re seeing is a really broad coalition starting to come together.
PHIL: Do you think it would pass the legislature if it didn’t have the workforce component to it, if it was just K through 12?
SEN. CRUZ: I don’t think it would pass Congress with just K through 12, and that’s the reason I added the workforce component. Because what we’ve seen in Congress on school choice issues is a pretty sharp partisan divide. We’ve got a lot of consensus among Republicans. Right now, congressional Democrats have opposed school choice proposals. Part of what I’m trying to do with this legislation is break through that, is build a broader coalition. And in particular, because of the workforce component, there are a lot of folks, traditional blue collar unions, that have long time been Democratic allies who are starting to get really excited about this.
PHIL: Are there any income requirements to this? Because I can see the fear being that this is going to be you know, to save rich families money to send their rich kids to expensive schools.
SEN. CRUZ: “So the federal legislation doesn’t impose them, it leaves it to the states but if you look, a lot of different states have created tax credit programs much like this and most of them have imposed income requirements. You typically have something like, say they’re eligible for families that are say two hundred percent of poverty. That’s one line that a number of them use. That would be up to the state of Texas, I think there would certainly be a significant likelihood that Texas would decide to means test it. But the federal legislation doesn’t mandate it because each state might answer that question a little bit differently.”
PHIL: Under the Texas school finance system, most of the money follows the kid to the schools. So I think another thing that people will be worried about is if anything that encourages kids to go out of the public school would lessen, would make the pot of money smaller. How are you going to get over that? And what do you say to people who have that fear?
SEN. CRUZ: “Well this legislation allows states, if they so desire, to let kids choose to send that money, their scholarship directly to the public school they’re in. So then one potential could be more money for the public schools. That’s up to each state how they structure it but this legislation gives states that flexibility. My objective here is to help make the public schools better. We know the overwhelming majority of the kids are educated and will continue to be educated in the public schools. And the entire point of competition and empowering parents is to bring that competition into the system to improve the outcomes, to improve performance in the public schools.
PHIL: You’re a small government guy. Do we need a law for this? Because if businesses or wealthy individuals or anybody wants to donate to a scholarship to do this already, they could. Why do we need a law to do this?
SEN. CRUZ: Unquestionably we do. And we do for a couple of reasons. One, education has long been a traditional focus of government, an important focus of government. It is a responsibility. We know that educating our kids determines the future of Texas. If we do it, we’ve got a bright future. If our kids don’t get an education, our future is badly troubled. Number two, this is designed to be federal tax credits. That has been a long vehicle of incentivizing conduct that is beneficial. It was critically important to me in this bill to respect federalism. Nobody wants to see a national school board dictating what is taught in the schools. So this bill prohibits the feds from having any involvement whatsoever in curriculum, staying completely out of it. It is simply a tax credit for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations. And that leaves curriculum decisions, that leaves design of the program at the state and local level, where it is directly accountable to Texans.
PHIL: Is there a candidate you think Republicans should fear out of the democrats and is there a candidate you hope they nominate that would be easy to beat?
SEN. CRUZ: You know. I don’t know if there’s anyone easy to beat. Let me take it one piece at a time. Let’s start in the primary. I think they’re going to nominate someone from the extreme left. The reason is I think all of the energy, all of the pasion. All of the anger in the democratic party is on the exteme left. In my view the most likely nominees are one of four people: Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren. That’s just where I see the passion.”
PHIL: Your old opponent.
SEN. CRUZ: Indeed. It is interesting watching. But look, there are some Republicans who are thrilled and go, ok great, if they nominate someone from the far left, then we win. Look, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. We are an evenly divided country. 180-thousand votes switch in 2016 and Hillary Clinton is the President. We’re having a fundamental debate in the United States about what kind of country are we. Are we going to be a socialist country which a number of these candidates are openly calling for or are we going to continue to embrace American free enterprise? The American free enterprise system has been the greatest enemy poverty has ever seen. If you care about social justice, socialism doesn’t work. Free enterprise has lifted millions of people, billions of people worldwide out of poverty. And so this fundamental debate, it’s a debate I’m engaged in and continue to engage in. But it’s a debate that matters to Texans, matters to people across the country.