DeVos-Backed School Choice Plan Touted in State of the Union

President Donald Trump is calling for an ambitious new $5 billion annual tax credit for private scholarship programs to support school choice.

The president urged lawmakers in his State of the Union address Tuesday night to pass legislation creating the “Education Freedom Scholarship” program that has become a top priority for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over the past year.

“The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Trump said. “Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools.”

There’s little chance the legislation will advance given the current political makeup of Congress—a point Democrats hammered home. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said Trump failed to offer “a serious plan to reverse the chronic underfunding of public education.”

Scott, who raised the funding issue when Trump rolled out his proposal last year, said “House Democrats will not waste time on proposals that undermine public education.”

Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, said the tax-credit proposal was an attempt to advance privatization of public schools.

“Instead of handing out tax credits to the wealthiest people and the biggest corporations, President Trump and Secretary DeVos should do their jobs and support state and local efforts to provide high-quality public education that serves all students,” she said.

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Trump used the State of the Union to criticize Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, for vetoing legislation last year that would have doubled state tax credits for businesses and private donors who contribute to scholarship funds for private schools.

DeVos School Choice Plan `Shell Game’ Hurting Poor, Critic Says

In December, Trump held a roundtable on school choice at the White House with DeVos, Vice President Mike Pence, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). School choice refers to programs such as vouchers, charter schools, and tax credits that provide families with publicly funded alternatives to assigned public schools. Supporters say these programs give families better options, while critics say they can drain resources from traditional public schools.

“Tonight, the President delivered a strong message in support of America’s students and their futures,” DeVos said in a statement after the president’s remarks. “Every student, parent, and teacher should be excited by this bold agenda to free them from a government system that limits their success. We know all too well that too many students can’t read or do basic math at the level they should; in fact, one in four eighth graders is functionally illiterate. President Trump is ensuring these forgotten students are forgotten no more.”

Legislation Introduced

Cruz introduced a bill (S.634) in the Senate last year to authorize the Education Freedom Scholarships. Identical legislation (H.R. 1434) has also been introduced in the House.

“Every student, regardless of income or zip code, should have access to quality education,” he said in a statement.

Eighteen states currently offer tax credits for scholarships supporting school choice options.

A recent survey released by Educators for Excellence, a nonprofit that advocates for a larger voice for teachers in policymaking, found that more than half of public school teachers are open to tax credits as a tool to promote school choice. But 73% opposed the outlines of a school choice tax credit matching the DeVos proposal.

Parents and educators have rejected the kinds of proposals outlined by Trump, Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teacher’s union, said in a statement.

“They agree that if we’re serious about every child’s future, elected officials need to listen and get serious about doing what works,” she said. “This means providing resources to our neighborhood public schools so that students have inviting classrooms, a well-rounded curriculum, class sizes that are small enough for one-on-one attention, and support services such as health care, nutrition, and after-school programs for students who need them.”

Trump on Tuesday also called for adding vocational training “in every single high school in America.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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