Rama Youssef is a Syrian refugee set to graduate from De La Salle North Catholic High School in the spring. Federal tax reform could hurt the school, officials say.  (Courtesy De La Salle North Catholic)
Rama Youssef is a Syrian refugee set to graduate from De La Salle North Catholic High School in the spring. Federal tax reform could hurt the school, officials say. (Courtesy De La Salle North Catholic)

UPDATED DEC. 8, 9:30 A.M.

Officials from De La Salle North Catholic High School say provisions in a federal tax plan making progress in Congress could thwart their project of bringing Catholic education to lower-income students.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, headed to conference in the House of Representatives and Senate, would require students to pay tax on funds earned during school-organized work study. The jobs, offered by local businesses, give students work experience but also allow schools like De La Salle North to keep tuition low — less than $3,000 per year. Internship money — more than $5,000 per student per year — goes straight to De La Salle for tuition.

About 11,500 students rely on the tax exemption at 32 schools in what is called the Cristo Rey Network.

“We urgently seek your support to not eliminate Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code,” says a letter from De La Salle to Oregon’s two U.S. senators.

Nixing the code “would cause those students to be taxed on their income and would certainly affect their family income and potentially students’ ability to qualify for college aid and loans.”

De La Salle official say eliminating the exemption “would have a disastrous effect on our Corporate Work Study Programs and on our schools’ financial sustainability.”

Supporters of the plan say the raised standard deduction will actually save money for families like those who send their children to De La Salle North.

The debate is personal for Rama Youssef, a Syrian refugee set to graduate from De La Salle North in the spring. She and her mother fled Madaya, Syria, after a bomb exploded not far from Rama’s middle school. They arrived in the United States in 2012 and Rama’s mother set out looking for the best education she could find for her daughter.

“She wanted me to attend college, not just die in the war,” said Rama, who is enthusiastic about her De La Salle experience, particularly her internship at Nike Jordan.

“They prepare you not only for college, but for life,” she said.

A Nov. 2 dinner and auction for De La Salle North raised more than $553,000.

“The amazing thing about De La Salle North Catholic is that when people learn about the courageous work that takes place in our classrooms and at Corporate Work Study job sites, people want to be a part of it,” said Ashleigh de Villiers, De La Salle’s vice president for advancement.