Donald J. Trump is being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States today as he takes the oath of office at the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.
As a candidate, and following his election, President Trump outlined an impressive vision for school choice in America. Trump pledged to allow families to “redirect education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice.”
The New Secretary Of Education
But his most noteworthy move to date has been the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. DeVos’ confirmation hearing was earlier this week and she should be confirmed shortly by the Republican majority in the Senate.
DeVos is a long-time champion of education choice, devoting much of her life to the cause. She previously served as Chairman of the American Federation for Children, a national leader in the school choice movement. One of the most well-known faces of the school choice movement will soon be leading the United States Department of Education. And she will likely fill the Department’s will and pleasure employees with like-minded ed reformers from around that the country. That is a good thing, unless you are a union official.
What The Federal Government Can Do
While education policies are generally left to the state’s there is work the president can do in promoting and encouraging the advancement of school choice throughout the country. In alphabetical order, here are seven specific areas where education choice could be expanded at the national level:
- D.C. Opportunity Scholarship: The political football that is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, a voucher for low-income students living in Washington D.C., should receive more permanent status and funding in the Trump administration. This program could also be expanded to all students in Washington and/ or converted to an education savings account (ESA), which would provide maximum flexibility to families to truly customize their child’s education. An ESA could be used for approved educational services, including private school tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring, online curriculum, etc. Either way, this program deserves to be moved toward a more stable ground after eight years of uncertainties.
- Expand 529 college savings plans to K-12: Families are currently allowed to deposit up to $2,000 in a Coverdell ESA for K-12 expenses such as private school. That is a start but not nearly enough to cover the cost of tuition at most private schools, even in a state like Mississippi where private schools are among the least expensive in the country. By moving this closer to the $14,000 yearly cap on 529s (for college savings), the program would be opened to many more families.
- Federal charter school funding: The federal charter school program provides grants to help start new charter schools and pay for initial operational expenses, such as building costs. This has generally received bi-partisan support and, if anything, we could see funding increased beyond the current $300 million authorized last year.
- Federal tax credit scholarship program: Last year, legislation was introduced in both the United States House and Senate to create a federal tax credit scholarship program. In such a program, individuals and corporations would receive tax credits for donations they make to Scholarship Granting Organizations who then provide scholarships for students to attend private school. At the state level, 17 states currently have tax credit scholarship programs. Mississippi would need to create a program to participate in the federal program.
- Native American Education Opportunity Act: This legislation was introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) earlier this year and was approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. It is expected to come back next year. If enacted, this would allow students living on Indian reservations to receive an ESA if their home state has an ESA in place. This includes Mississippi, which currently has eight Bureau of Indian Education schools across three counties in the east-central part of the state.
- Portability of federal funding: Title I education funding is currently the single largest federal K-12 program and these dollars flow directly from the government to the local brick and mortar schools. To ensure we are funding students, rather than schools, those federal dollars can be redirected to the parents so they determine the right education for their child. The purpose of this funding should be to educate students and ensure they receive a high quality education, and a move in this direction would help the federal government achieve that mission.
- School choice for military families: The federal government could enact a policy that provides either an ESA or voucher to children of active duty military families nationwide.
While the work will generally remain at the state level as it traditionally has, we look forward to the potential for new programs from Washington.
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