While addressing Congress, President Donald Trump recently announced his plans to push for a national school voucher program.
Trump called on members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to pass an education bill funding choice of schools for disadvantaged youth, among which he included millions of Latino and African American children. The President stated that such a bill would give families the option to choose the school that is best for them, including private, public, religious, magnet, charter or home schooling options.
Although Trump provided no details, experts have stated that to accomplish this at a national level, it would most likely have to be implemented by a tax credit program.
Tax credit programs allow corporations and individuals to designate a specific percentage of their tax money to nonprofit organizations that offer scholarships. Student recipients can then select from a list of private schools and the nonprofit organizations then cover the school expenses or tuition for the student. Seventeen states have such programs at this time, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
It is thought that Trump’s model may be Florida, as corporations in that state can designate as much as 75 percent of their income tax for scholarship programs, and most students qualify if they are eligible for reduced-cost or free lunch.
One of Trump’s guests was Denisha Merriweather, a woman who Trump said failed third grade twice and then graduated from a private school in Florida with the assistance of a tax credit scholarship program. The President said Merriweather will complete her Masters degree in social work in the near future and was also the first member of her family to graduate high school and obtain a college degree.
Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education and voucher advocate, referred to Florida as a model for education. Nevertheless, a recent study indicated that children enrolled in private schools through the aforementioned program in Florida did not demonstrate any improvement from one year to the next with regard to test scores.
Tax credits and vouchers use public money to allow children to attend private schools, including religious schools. Conservative bases in urban areas find such programs appealing, because they advance free-market philosophies and allow them to choose schools that offer religious instruction. However, voucher programs do not do as well in rural areas, where there is a sparse selection of private schools.
Democrats often view vouchers as somewhat of a political wildcard, as vouchers may raise concerns about separation of church and state, as well as the use of public money with what they deem may be too little regulation. As of 2019, ballot initiatives to develop voucher programs failed on two separate occasions in California.
When introducing his push for voucher programs, Trump referred to education as “the civil rights issue of our time,” a statement that was very similar to that of former President Obama’s first Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.