We did not hear many education specifics during the presidential campaign, but one proposal echoed consistently during Trump rallies was this: a $20 billion federal school voucher program which would, in effect, decimate federal formula funding to public schools. While most Washington, D.C., insiders agree that the $20 billion will be a challenge to find, smaller-scale proposals have been a topic of conversation. Potential programs bandied about include:
- Competitive grant programs similar to the Race to the Top grants. These are unlikely given the opposition to such programs championed by the Obama administration.
- Title I and IDEA portability programs, which would allow students to take the per-pupil funding under these laws to another public or private school.
- Revision of the federal tax code to support tax credit scholarship programs, similar to proposals outlined in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act. These seem most likely, since tax reform is high on President Trump’s agenda.
Opposition Extends to Title I Portability
To be clear, NASSP strongly opposes any attempt to shift public funds out of public schools. That opposition extends to Title I portability, as funds are designed to support schools with a large percentage of students in poverty. In light of that opposition, NASSP will closely monitor proposals to defund our public schools, including several acts proposed early in the 115th Congress:
Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act (S. 235). Introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) with a companion House bill (H.R. 691) by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), this bill would provide vouchers to military families, families of students with disabilities, and low-income students in Washington, D.C. The National Coalition for Public Education, in conjunction with NASSP, issued a statement in opposition to the CHOICE Act, because this bill would strip students of protections under IDEA, reduce basic accountability standards, and drain an already underfunded federal program.
Educational Opportunities Act (S. 148). This bill would create a new federal tax credit that encourages individuals and corporations to contribute to scholarship—granting organizations that enable children from lower-income families to attend schools of the parents’ choice. Introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), this legislation is an example of a “Title I portability” proposal, allowing states to use federal funding for school choice initiatives. The proposal would help middle-class students more than low-income students because the portable funds would fall short of private-school tuition. Additionally, opponents have concerns that some of the students who would attend have less robust accountability requirements compared to traditional public schools. There is further concern that these schools would neglect students with disabilities and teach intelligent design and possibly other controversial topics that would violate the separation of church and state.
Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act. Supporters of school choice have championed SOAR as a successful pilot program, and so would reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides low-income students with the chance to receive a scholarship to attend a Washington, D.C., private school of their parents’ choice. The bill was introduced in the 114th Congress and is pending reintroduction in the 115th.
NASSP will continue to monitor these bills closely and alert school leaders on actions they can take to protect the funds already being stretched to best serve students in the nation’s public schools.
Bob Farrace is the director of public affairs for NASSP.