Facing the prospect of another semester, or even year, of the failure of public education to adapt to COVID-19, American parents are scrambling to form educational “pods” in collaboration with other families. Ten families chipping in $10,000 apiece, for example, could hire an excellent teacher to provide their children with personalized learning in an intimate, friendly, and safe environment.
Conservatives love the idea, seeing it as a Tocquevillian response to a social emergency that could lay the groundwork for a more diverse and pluralistic educational system. Some progressives see the same possibility but interpret it differently, lamenting the rise of pods as another instantiation of “white supremacy.” One doesn’t have to endorse progressives’ overheated race rhetoric to recognize a legitimate concern about pods: Lower-income households will have a harder time amassing the resources necessary to hire quality teachers, raising the prospect of an expanding achievement gap. That concern could be largely ameliorated, however, with a tax credit refunding their expenses.
Into this evolving landscape steps presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who appears to have proposed — without quite realizing it — the largest expansion of federal school choice in American history. Last month, the Biden campaign promised to extend a refundable tax credit of up to $8,000 to cover child-care expenses for kids 13 and younger; families making up to $125,000 annually would be eligible.
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