At the signing ceremony for his executive order on police reform Tuesday, President Trump declared: “School choice is the civil rights statement of the year, of the decade, and probably beyond.”
Conservative politicians have been sounding similar notes for decades, with precious little to show for it. But in the wake of COVID-19, the Trump administration and Congress have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strike a decisive blow for school choice.
Last year, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a federal school choice proposal: the Education Freedom Scholarships Act. Conservatives have long been torn between their desire to advance choice and their reservations about expanding the federal role in education. But the program promises to boost choice while respecting federalism by providing federal tax credits for donations to state-approved scholarship-granting organizations, potentially providing enough funding to send 1 million students to private schools.
Under normal circumstances, the chances of this bill passing the House and getting 60 votes in the Senate would be essentially zero. But these are not normal circumstances.
Education advocacy organizations have been lobbying Congress for a quarter-trillion-dollar federal bailout, threatening not to reopen schools unless they see some major cash. And although our peers across the Atlantic have already managed to reopen despite spending thousands less per pupil, an additional federal bailout for public education is inevitable.
The details of the bailout package likely to be debated next month, however, are not yet set. Trump should put his foot down and demand that he will not sign any bill unless it contains DeVos’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.
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