CO Lawmakers Consider 529 Flexibility (Again)


Colorado is once again in the middle of a debate over 529 college-savings account flexibility. This time around, the biggest topic of debate is HB19-1123. That bill, sponsored by Representative Colin Larson and Senator Jim Smallwood, is set for a hearing before the House Education Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 14.

As the sponsors wrote in a recent column for the Denver Post, HB19-1123 would make a simple change to Colorado’s outdated law that would allow parents to utilize their 529 funds for K-12 tuition at public or private schools without fear of heavy tax penalties. If lawmakers fail to act on the issue, parents could begin seeing those penalties as early as this year.

Issue Recap

For those just tuning in, here’s some quick background on the issue. In 2017, Congress expanded the acceptable uses of 529 savings to include K-12 tuition expenses at public and private schools. That new flexibility acknowledged the fact that many families need to access their savings to meet educational needs long before their students go to college. For instance, a student might:

  • Need a more rigorous academic environment
  • Want access to a specialized program or field of study
  • Need a school closer to their parents’ home or work
  • Need a safer environment free from bullying or other issues

The main advantage of 529 accounts has always been that they allow money to grow in a tax-advantaged environment. Colorado has taken those advantages a step further by providing state tax deductions and credits for 529 contributions made individuals and corporations, respectively. Those extra state tax advantages are designed to incentivize increased saving for students’ educational futures.

Here’s where it gets complicated. While federal law now recognizes K-12 tuition as an acceptable withdrawal from 529 accounts, Colorado law has not been brought up to date. As a result, state law considers withdrawals for K-12 tuition to be “unqualified”—a designation that can carry all sorts of consequences for who ignore it.

In practice, this misalignment between state and federal law means that parents who try to utilize 529 funds in accordance with federal law could still be subject to hefty state tax penalties. These penalties will most often take the form of “recaptures,” in which the state forces parents to repay any credits or deductions taken for relevant contributions to the account.

Why Should You Care?

The recaptures mentioned above could amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If a parent were to pull the maximum $10,000 for K-12 tuition, that parent could trigger a state deduction recapture amounting to $463. If a parent’s employer has also taken tax credits for contributions to the account, which can amount to up to $500 per year, the recapture of those credits could result in even higher tax bills.

Considering that the Federal Reserve has found that nearly half of American households would be unable to handle an unexpected expense of $400, these recaptures could be crippling for many families. Is that really how we want to treat parents who save for their children’s futures?

What Can I Do?

You may remember that last year’s legislative debate ended in a partisan stalemate. This legislative session, Colorado lawmakers have a chance to get it right and ensure that parents aren’t treated like tax criminals for accessing their own educational savings.

If you’d like to make your voice heard on this important issue, click on the button below to contact members of the Colorado House Education Committee. If you would like to testify in person or in writing at the February 14 hearing, please email Katrina Yoshida at no later than Tuesday, February 12.



State Legislatures Kick Off Across U.S.


The beginning of January is a relatively quiet time for most folks. They settle into the new year slowly, spend time planning out the first quarter, and generally work on getting their professional sea legs back after the break.

Not so for those who work in public policy. For them, January is the first quarter of legislative game time.

ACE Scholarships works on a variety of policy issues across our eight states each year, all of which are related to existing or prospective parental choice policies. Our involvement could include conducting analysis of various policies, working with legislators and other organizations to design programs, educating various audiences about policy issues, and engaging in advocacy efforts.

If you want to know when legislative season kicks off in your state, here’s a rundown of regular legislative session start dates in all eight ACE states:

Arkansas: January 14 (biennial session)

Colorado: January 4

Kansas: January 14

Louisiana: April 8

Missouri: January 9

Montana: January 7 (biennial session)

Texas: January 8 (biennial session)

Wyoming: January 8

As always, ACE will be closely following choice-related conversations in these states throughout their legislative sessions. If you would like to follow along in real time using the same tools we do, check out our Bill Tracker page. You can use that page to access bill text, track progress, see sponsor information, and more. You can also track our latest policy releases and alerts by state here.

Please do not think that the only role for you is as a passive observer! In addition to the other tools, you can use our Action Center to make your voice heard on various issues by clicking the Take Action button below. We will update that page with new campaigns as issues emerge.


2018 Election Day Impacts (Part 1)


Every election is wild, but the 2018 midterm was particularly heated. As the dust settles, a number of folks have asked us how we expect the results to impact parental choice in ACE states. Obviously, that’s a big question. There are always a thousand nuances involved in legislative politics, and we won’t know for certain how the elections will affect policy debates until the new folks officially take office and get to work. That said, we can make some high-level predictions in some areas.

To keep things a little more manageable, we’ll split this analysis into two separate posts: One on federal impacts and one on state legislative impacts in ACE states. We’ll tackle federal impacts today.

As anticipated, Democrats gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The party needed 23 seats to flip the chamber. As of this morning, they had gained 31 net seats. Check out this handy informational page from Politico if you want to dive into more detail. The U.S. Senate, however, remained Republican, which sets up an interesting divided-government situation that will force both parties to compromise if they want to move legislation.

From an education perspective, the most notable impact of the House power shift is that Democrats will now control the House Education and Workforce Committee, which is responsible for oversight of federal education policy. The make-up of that committee will also change substantially, as several GOP incumbents lost their re-election bids.

The changing of the guard in the House will also flip control of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is widely considered the single most powerful elected committee in the United States. While that committee typically does not tackle education issues, it does play a critical role in funding and tax conversations that could directly or indirectly impact education policy and programs through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In particular, altering the new limits on local tax deductions (SALT) could impact scholarship tax credit programs across the country.

(NOTE: ACE is currently monitoring the SALT issue, and the associated IRS rulemaking process, very closely. If you’d like to engage in that conversation and connect with your federal elected officials, you can do so using the button below.)

Take Action

In practical terms, here is what we can expect at the federal level as it relates to ACE:

  1. Congressional fixes for issues related to the SALT deduction cap are less likely. Under the committee’s new leadership, which will take over in January 2019, legislative action to exempt scholarship-granting organizations from onerous new IRS rules on charitable contribution deductions seems unlikely. It is not impossible that the Republican-held Congress could try to act before then, but that seems unlikely given that is has other priorities before January and has made no such move to date. ACE argued in its official public comment on the rule that Congress is better positioned to handle this largely statutory issue than the IRS itself.
  2. But that doesn’t mean changes won’t be considered. It is not impossible that members of the newly Democratic Ways and Means Committee would advance legislation to heavily modify or even repeal some provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2019. Given that the IRS proposed rule largely seeks to address workaround schemes in blue states, it is well within the realm of possibilities that we could see the issue of charitable contribution deductions revisited in the House. Whether or not any changes made could survive the Republican Senate is another matter.
  3. A national parental choice policy probably isn’t coming any time soon. Choice supporters should not expect to see much progress on the idea of a national K-12 scholarship program in the near future. In fairness, that was also largely true when Republicans held the House. The good news is that we can and should expect widespread and successful efforts continue in state legislatures across the country.
  4. We could see increased scrutiny and “oversight” of parental choice policies and programs. We’ve seen similar federal efforts before, though these efforts have been led by executive agencies and have come to naught. Whether or not this activity would continue or intensify under a new committee structure is an open question. If it does, it could create interesting dynamics between Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and state governments.