A $20 Billion Federal School Choice Tax Credit Program: Yes, no, maybe, how so




Since Donald Trump’s election and Betsy DeVos’s selection as Secretary of Education put private-school-choice programs in the national spotlight—after years of slow-and-steady growth at the state level—advocates across Twitter and the blogosphere have been offering ideas on what a big push at the federal level might look like.

Now we elevate those debates from the page to the stage. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Education Next, and the Hoover Institution have teamed up to bring forth two pointed discussions, each centered around a critical question.

First: To do or not to do? Neal McCluskey and Tom Carroll will debate the merits of a federal tax credit scholarship program: is there a role for Uncle Sam or will the feds inevitably muck this up?

Second: National, or state-by-state? Darla Romfo and Travis Pillow will tackle the question of whether the initiative should require states to opt-in, and set the rules, or if a federal tax credit should allow for K-12 scholarships nationwide.

Martin West, Education Next; Harvard Graduate School of Education
Derrell Bradford, NYCAN

Thomas Carroll, Invest in Education
Neal McCluskey, Cato Institute
Darla Romfo, Children’s Scholarship Fund
Travis Pillow, Step Up For Students

Join Fordham, EdNext, and Hoover on Tuesday, April 25th, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. EDT for these two important debates.

A live stream of the event will be available on this page starting at 10 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, April 25.


Martin R. West
Martin West is associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is also deputy director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and executive editor of Education Next, a journal of opinion and research on education policy. West studies the politics of K-12 education in the United States and how education policies affect student learning and non-cognitive development. His current projects include studies of public opinion on education policy, the effects of charter school attendance and on cognitive and non-cognitive skills, data use in schools, and the influence of relative pay on teacher quality. In 2014-15, West worked as senior education policy advisor to the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. He previously taught at Brown University and was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is now a nonresident senior fellow.
Derrell Bradford
Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN, with more than fourteen years working in education reform policy and advocacy. In his role, Derrell trains and recruits local leaders across the country to serve as executive directors of state CANs, advocacy fellows, and citizen advocates. He is also a member of the organization’s executive and leadership teams.Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Alliance of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. He also has a passion for writing and often authors essays on education, race, equity, and culture. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.



Thomas Carroll
Thomas (Tom) Carroll is the President of the Foundation for Opportunity in Education. He is the former President of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, the former Chairman of the Brighter Choice Foundation, the former President of the Empire Foundation for Policy Research, and the former Deputy Director of the Governor’s Office of Regulatory reform. Mr. Carroll has also held a number of fiscal and research positions with the New York State Division of Budget, the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, and the New York State Senate. Mr. Carroll is a graduate of New York’s public schools and the State University of New York at Albany.
Neal McCluskey
Neal McCluskey is the director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom. Prior to arriving at Cato, McCluskey served in the U.S. Army, taught high-school English, and was a freelance reporter covering municipal government and education in suburban New Jersey. More recently, he was a policy analyst at the Center for Education Reform. McCluskey is the author of the book Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education, and his writings have appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Forbes. In addition to his written work, McCluskey has appeared on C-span, CNN, the Fox News Channel, and numerous radio programs. McCluskey holds an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, where he double-majored in government and English, has a master’s degree in political science from Rutgers University, and has a PhD in public policy from George Mason University.
Darla Romfo
Darla M. Romfo is president and chief operating officer of the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF), which provides partial scholarships for low-income children in grades K–8 to go to private school. CSF has provided scholarships to more than 116,000 children and currently serves almost 26,500 children nationwide, and Ms. Romfo has served as CSF’s president and COO since the organization offered its first scholarships in 1999. Prior to joining CSF, she was legislative director and counsel to Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and legislative director and tax counsel to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Prior to working on Capitol Hill, Ms. Romfo was an attorney in private practice specializing in tax law. She is a nonprofit fellow at the Young Presidents’ Organization, as well as a frequent speaker on education and school choice. Ms. Romfo Previously, she was on the board of the Geneva School of Manhattan, a private, classical and Christian school. A certified public accountant, she received her law degree from George Washington University and her undergraduate degrees in political science and accounting from the University of North Dakota.
Travis Pillow
Travis Pillow is editor of redefinED. He spent his early professional career reporting on the inner workings of state government for a variety of news organizations, and became immersed in Florida’s education policy debates while covering schools and the Legislature for the Tallahassee Democrat. A product of Seminole County Public Schools, he received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida in 2010.

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