Education

Experts Weigh In on How Trump’s $20 Billion School Choice Plan Would Work

By Arianna Prothero — November 18, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By Alyson Klein. This story originally appeared on the Politics K-12 blog.

President-elect Donald Trump’s biggest education pitch during the presidential campaign was for a $20 billion voucher program that students could use at both public and private schools. So, now that he’s been elected, how feasible is that? And would states even be interested in it?

The money would have to come from somewhere. Trump said during the campaign that he’d like to use existing federal funds to support his big school choice program, even though he didn’t say, specifically what pot of money he was referring to. The department’s current budget is about $70 billion, with roughly $15.5 billion going to Title I grants for districts, and $12 billion going to state grants for special education.

Both programs have been absorbed into the blood stream of school district budgets, so re-directing the money would be a big deal.

“Twenty billion dollars is a lot of money,” said Vic Klatt, a principal at Penn Hill Group in post-election event sponsored by the Education Writers Association. “Finding that will be an interesting challenge for them. I’m not quite sure how they do it.”

And groups representing school districts, teachers, state officials and others would fight it hard. If enacted, the proposal would “undo decades of growth in student achievement, closing of achievement gaps, and growth in graduation rates,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

Congress would have to amend the Every Student Succeeds Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Trump couldn’t just snap his fingers and make the proposal a reality. He would have to go through Congress, which would have to pass the change by amending either ESSA or IDEA. That may not be easy. The Senate rejected a (somewhat similar) proposal from Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., last year when Republicans controlled more seats than they will in the new Congress. Trump and his allies would have to put it way up at the top of their priority list—or significantly expand the GOP ranks in Congress—for it to have a chance of passing.

Allocating the money could be difficult. Title I dollars don’t work like Pell Grants for low-income college students. They are distributed by a complicated formula and the amount per child varies from state to state and district to district. So the mechanics of a so-called Title I portability proposal—if that’s what Trump is after—aren’t simple. What’s more, states and school districts would almost certainly have to kick in their own funding to make it workable.

Last year, when a similar idea was under consideration in Congress, Mike Griffith, a school finance expert who works with the Education Commission of the States, noted that Title I dollars are geared toward concentrations of poverty. So a student taking Title I money from a school with a lot of poor children to a school with fewer students in poverty might be given a smaller allotment.

In a more recent interview, Griffith said it was tough to tell at this point how feasible Trump’s proposal would be at the state level since no hard-and-fast details are available yet. “It would depend on how the feds set it up,” he said.

Not every state would jump at the opportunity. Trump’s campaign website says that the school choice money would be given to states as a block grant. It’s unclear if states would then have to use it for a voucher program that could be used at private schools, and whether that could be tricky, given that some states have so-called “Blaine amendments” in their constitutions which prohibit local funds from going to religiously affiliated educational institutions, which includes a lot of private schools.

Back in 2015, Griffith predicted that only a couple of hard-core school choice states, like Arizona, would decide to take advantage of Title I portability. But a lot has changed politically since then, and Griffith says he could imagine a couple dozen states taking a serious look at the proposal, including Florida. Roughly twenty or so other states would almost definitely reject vouchers, including California and Massachusetts. And the first takers would probably be the five states that have education savings accounts for students in special education, he said, particularly if IDEA money could be used for choice.

There are politically less-difficult ways to advance choice, and some of them might come to fruition. Trump or his education allies in Congress could propose a smaller school choice program that’s a lot less ambitious than $20 billion but something more in line with President George W. Bush’s Pell Grants for Kids proposal, which never became a reality. They could also decide to expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which offers vouchers to poor kids in the nation’s capital, and has a mixed track record of success. In fact, 94 percent Education Insiders surveyed by Whiteboard Advisors think the D.C. voucher program has a good shot of becoming a high priority this Congress.

Or Trump and the GOP could go great guns on charter schools, which also receive some federal seed money.


Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP