Former allies on school choice now divided by Trump budget
Published 7:49 am Thursday, May 25, 2017
President Donald Trump’s budget proposal to provide federal tax money for private-school scholarships is getting pushback from an unconventional source: groups known for promoting school-choice initiatives.
The plan promoted by Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos widened a divide in the school-choice movement and brought swift condemnation from people who support more competition for public schools in the form of charter schools but oppose sending tax money to private institutions.
“I think it’s an affront to the American dream,” said Jonah Edelman, CEO of the pro-charter group Stand for Children, which planned to align with a frequent adversary, one of the nation’s largest teachers unions, to oppose the plan.
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The administration’s budget proposal sets aside $250 million for the scholarships. That’s a tiny sliver of the $4.1 trillion spending plan released Tuesday, but if approved it would mark the first time the federal government has helped pay private-school tuition for K-12 students.
The budget also calls for $1 billion for a new program encouraging school districts to give parents options in choosing a public school for their children. And it increases grants for charter schools.
Trump has said he eventually wants federal school-choice programs to expand to $20 billion a year.
“This administration understands that educational choice is an essential component to ensuring every child can access a quality education,” said Tommy Schultz, spokesman for American Federation for Children, the school-choice advocacy group headed until last year by DeVos.
She and the group support using public money to help parents pay tuition for private schools, including religious ones, through vouchers or tax credits. The tax credits would go to parents who qualify based on their income or to corporations that provide private-school scholarships.
Critics say the approach will divert money from public schools that need it.
They find it especially objectionable because it’s on a short list of spending increases in a plan that otherwise cuts the Education Department’s budget by 14 percent. Trump’s budget proposal reduces funding for after-school programs, arts education and college work-study programs.
“Under the guise of empowering parents with school choice,” the administration’s budget “would hurt the very communities that have the most to gain from high-quality public school options,” Eli Broad, a Los Angeles billionaire and major proponent of public charter schools, said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Public school choice cannot come at the expense of all public school families and students.”