President Donald J. Trump visited a Catholic school in Orlando today for what has been described as a “listening session” on “school choice.” In other words, a rally for private school vouchers.
Trump, kids in school uniforms, and claims about widespread success of a government program may make for good political theater. But, “alternative facts” and anecdotes are a terrible basis for policy. The truth is that vouchers masquerading as “school choice” are a failure.
To begin with, “school choice” is a misnomer. Parents and students don’t actually have any “choice.” The people who own and operate private schools do. Private schools get taxpayer dollars yet are allowed to reject students with vouchers for a variety of reasons.
Private schools that seek to inculcate sectarian dogma should not receive taxpayer support.
For instance, many of these institutions are religious and discriminate against students and staff. Run afoul of those, and they’ll show you the door. Students with disabilities often don’t have much of a “choice” either. Private schools often either lack the ability to serve them or simply choose not to.
Facts like these should matter, but Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are driven by ideology and a fervent belief that private services are always better than public ones. Thus, Trump wants to spend $20 billion on “choice” plans for our education system.
Because vouchers undermine public schools, American parents know this would be a disaster. Ninety percent of our children are served by public schools. In these schools – unlike the private, religious institutions Trump and DeVos champion – all children are welcome. Religion isn’t imposed on anyone, and students with special needs receive the services they’re entitled to.
In our public schools, teachers and staff don’t have to worry about getting fired for not attending the right church every Sunday. Unlike private schools that may be answerable to a church or even one person, public schools receive oversight from democratically elected boards composed of people in the community.
Aside from the fact that he wants to spend another weekend in Florida, Trump decided to visit this school because many of its students use vouchers under Florida’s tuition tax credit program. This is just one of the versions of vouchers Florida has – there’s also a voucher plan for students with disabilities and an education savings account – and all of them funnel public funds to private schools. (Tuition tax credits are what Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, a member of AU’s board, recently called “an existential threat to public schools in Florida.”)
Tuition tax credits may be purposely convoluted, but they are just another form of vouchers. Under these programs, corporations and sometimes individuals make donations to organizations that provide “scholarships” (that is, vouchers) and receive a significant tax credit for it. And based on Trump’s visit today to Orlando, tuition tax credits may be a big part of the Trump and DeVos plan.