Six speakers on the first night of the Republican National Convention raised the issue of school choice, suggesting that it may become a key policy promoted by the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump.
While the issue of school choice is complex and deals with funding from local, state, and federal governments, the idea is to allow parents to decide whether to spend the tax dollars allocated to their children on a public school, private school, charter school, religious school, or homeschooling.
“I realized a quality education is the closest thing we have to magic in America. That’s why I fight to this day for school choice; to make sure every child in every neighborhood has a quality education,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said.
“I don’t care if it’s a public, private, charter, virtual, or home school. When a parent has a choice, their kid has a better chance. And the president has fought alongside me on that.”
On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump proposed a $20 billion school choice block grant. The Trump administration’s Department of Education subsequently proposed an Education Freedom Scholarship program to provide $5 billion in annual tax credits for people and businesses who donate to scholarship granting organizations. The organizations would then provide scholarships for families who want to send their children to a school of their choice.
“He’s even proposed education freedom scholarships to return control to parents, protect religious liberties, and empower kids to escape dangerous, low-performing schools,” said Rebecca Friedrichs, a public school teacher from California. “The Republican platform supports educational freedom. The Democrat Party does not.”
Public school teacher unions—one of the most powerful political forces in the United States—are vehemently opposed to school choice, arguing that any such proposal would draw funds away from the public schools that need it most.
“The only way to keep a free Republic is with a well-educated, moral citizenry that can self-govern. Unions are subverting our Republic, so they undermine educational excellence, morality, law, and order,” Friedrichs said.
“That’s why they spend hundreds of millions annually to defeat charter schools and school choice–trapping so many precious, low-income children in dangerous, corrupt, and low-performing schools.”
The 2016 GOP platform, which the Republicans re-adopted for the 2020 convention, doesn’t include any language regarding school choice.
The K-12 education vision page on the website of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden doesn’t mention school choice.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Kim Klacik, a Republican running for Congress in Baltimore, both brought up school choice. All of the speakers spoke before an empty hall in Washington because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, also devoted significant time to the topic.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that could afford the best schools and the finest universities. But a great education cannot be the exclusive right of the rich and powerful. It must be accessible to all,” Trump Jr. said.
“That’s why my dad is pro-school choice. That’s why he called education access the civil rights issue of not just our time—but of all time.
“It is unacceptable that too many African American and Hispanic American children are stuck in bad schools just because of their ZIP code,” he added. “If Democrats really wanted to help minorities and underserved communities, instead of bowing to big money union bosses, they’d let parents choose what school is best for their kids.”
While public schools are mostly funded with money from local and state governments, federal dollars are still crucial.
During the State of the Union address earlier this year, one of the president’s invitees was a girl whose mom couldn’t get her into a charter school. Trump highlighted the story and said that the girl would be able to attend the school.