School choice finds a voice in federal budget

The Trump administration proposes $1 billion to advance vouchers, parental control.

The $4.1 trillion proposed budget released May 24 by the White House asks for overall cuts to education spending, including for federally backed student loans, but gives school choice a $1 billion boost. Part of the proposed allocation would go toward a grant program to encourage states to make public school funds portable, allowing parents to pick the campus that works best for their children. About one-quarter of the funds would go to study and expand voucher programs.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos likely will face plenty of questions about both proposals when she testifies in budget hearings on Capitol Hill. Expect Democrats to echo complaints from public school advocates, who began battling the Trump administration push for school choice almost as soon as polls closed in November. But choice advocates aren’t happy with the budget proposal either, noting conservative principles call for less government intervention in education, not more.

During a May 22 speech at a summit hosted by the pro–school choice American Federation for Children, DeVos tried to allay fears about federal overreach.

“We won’t accomplish our goals by creating a new federal bureaucracy or by bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money,” she said. “We should have zero interest in substituting the current big government approach for our own big government approach.”

Republican lawmakers don’t like plenty of other proposals in the Trump budget, and cuts to food stamps, highway funding, crop insurance subsidies, and disability payments likely will get more attention than expanding school choice. It’s also important to remember that Congress ultimately writes and adopts the budget, not the White House. But the budget gives the Trump administration another opportunity to sell its school choice vision—and gives public school supporters another point of attack. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, called the DeVos choice proposals an “extreme privatization agenda.”

— by Leigh Jones

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