You know an initiative is really unpopular when a flaming liberal senator and ultra-conservative think tanks are on the same side.
That’s what’s happening with the private school choice policies advocated by the Trump administration.
President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal would cut the Department of Education budget by $9 billion while adding an extra $1.4 billion into school choice programs. The budget would increase funding for public charter schools by $168 million, and put an additional $1 billion into Title I funding for low-income students—most of which would go specifically to allowing these students to attend a public school of their choice, including charter schools.
“This should concern all of our colleagues, Republican and Democrat,” Senator Murray, the ranking member of the Senate education committee, wrote in a recent memo on the education budget proposal. “While supporters try to argue the programs proposed in President Trump’s budget increase ‘school choice,’ in reality, privatization presents a false choice for parents, students, and communities.”
Murray’s memo encouraged her colleagues to focus on increasing the quality of public education, partly by increasing parent engagement, offering more career and technical courses, and instituting dual enrollment programs.
Although Republican politicians don’t seem that concerned about school choice issues at the moment—in fact, Republicans have introduced several bills in Congress relating to school choice and vouchers—conservative think tanks and lobbying groups are not so gung-ho on the proposal. Their reasons, however, are entirely different.
“This is something that would be a huge issue if the federal government gets involved,” said Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. Neal McCluskey, the director of the Libertarian Cato Institute, agrees.
And Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, an organization “devoted to advancing educational freedom and choice for all,” according to its website, said, “The only thing that worries me about school choice is government intervention.”
Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise institute, said, “when I hear folks talking about getting Washington involved in tuition tax credits for scholarship granting organizations, and I hear the proposals that are being broadly floated, it makes me extraordinarily nervous.”
While all the conservative groups mentioned above favor school choice and voucher systems, they believe those initiatives should come at the state level, and that getting the federal government involved in “peddling those policies” could negatively impact what they view as successful programs implemented at the state level.
Senator Murray has a different reason for opposing the Trump administration’s school choice initiative. “Unfortunately, our system breaks down completely when it comes to public money going to private schools,” she said in a recent discussion. “Without accountability and without transparency, too many students fall through the cracks and we fly blind without the information we need to make sure all students are succeeding.”
Judging by this development, it appears that school choice may face the same fate as the “Trumpcare” act: when both Democrats and the more conservative wing of the Republican party oppose an initiative, it is likely that initiative will die in Congress before it even gets to the President for a signature.