At a recent White House roundtable with students, teachers and policymakers, President Trump said that children trapped in failing government schools “would be forgotten no longer,” and urged Congress to pass his Education Freedom Scholarships proposal, which would improve education for America’s children.
Under the president’s EFS proposal, taxpayers could make voluntary contributions to scholarship-granting organizations, which would be identified and approved by states, and these organizations would give out scholarships to students that could be used for a wide variety of educational options. Taxpayers making contributions would receive a non-refundable dollar-for-dollar tax credit.
EFS would not be a top-down federal program, but would allow states to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers and allowable education expenses.
Among the expanded educational opportunities that states could approve include advanced, remedial and elective courses; career-technical-education certifications; private and home education; special education services and therapies; tutoring; and summer and after school education.
Walter Blanks, a 2019 graduate of a private high school, sat next to President Trump at the roundtable event and said the scholarship he received from a similar EFS-type program in Ohio “changed my life.”
The scholarship allowed Walter, who is African-American and who struggled in public school, to escape an environment that resulted in prison or worse for so many of his peers. “This is life or death,” he told the president, and for him, “the only difference is that I had a way out” through the scholarship.
“My education,” said Walter, “allowed me to get out of that situation.” Walter now wants to devote his life to reforming America’s education system so that other children are able to receive the same benefits of school choice that he has received.
Recent polling data show that overwhelming majorities of Americans, especially in minority communities, want the school choice that Walter had.
A December 2019 poll by RealClear Opinion research surveyed more than 2,000 registered voters and asked them if they would support or oppose a tax-credit scholarship program such as EFS. Their response was loud and clear.
An amazing 70 percent said they would support an EFS-type program. Further, that support was the same among whites, African-Americans and Hispanics, with seven out of 10 in each group supporting such a program.
That broad-based support for school choice is a big reason that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was elected by a very narrow margin in 2018, is now one of the most popular governors in the nation, with sky-high support among African-Americans and Hispanics.
In May, Mr. DeSantis signed legislation creating Family Empowerment Scholarships that could be used by low-income and middle-class families to pay for tuition at private schools.
The new scholarship program was especially needed because demand for the popular Florida Tax Credit scholarships, a program which allows corporations and taxpayers to contribute to non-profit scholarship-funding organizations, had outstripped supply.
More than 100,000 low-income Florida students receive Florida Tax Credit scholarships to attend around 1,800 private schools. Yet, 13,000 children were on the waiting list for an FTC scholarship.
It is estimated that the new Family Empowerment Scholarships will assist 18,000 students in 2019-20 and thousands more in the future due to an escalator clause in the law.
African-Americans and Hispanics make up 71 percent of the first cohort of students receiving the Family Empowerment Scholarships, while 87 percent are low-income.
According to Mr. DeSantis, students receiving one of Florida’s various scholarships for four or more years are 40 percent more likely to graduate from college than their similarly situated non-scholarship peers.
As he signed the Family Empowerment Scholarships bill into law, Mr. DeSantis said, “I personally believe, as a matter of philosophy, that parents know what’s best for their kids.”
Like Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Trump understands that school choice is essential to improving education for our nation’s children and that pushing proposals such as Education Freedom Scholarships is smart politics, especially when potential rivals such as Elizabeth Warren have adopted aggressive anti-choice platforms, which please the teacher unions but are guaranteed to alienate the large majority of the American people.
• Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the 2019 book “Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.”