by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
James Antle of the Washington Examiner highlights the president’s recent endorsement of school choice.
President Trump wants schools to reopen as normal for in-person classroom instruction in the fall despite the pandemic, but if they don’t, he has signaled he is willing to push for a major expansion in school choice in response.
“If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their child to public, private, charter, religious, or home school of their choice. The key word being ‘choice,’” Trump told reporters at the White House last week. “If the school is closed, the money should follow the student, so the parents and families are in control of their own decisions. So we’d like the money to go to the parents of the student. This way, they can make the decision that’s best for them.”
“We feel that it’s very important, from the White House, to address … money for schools and ensuring that the money for schools enables students to make school choices, like actually going to a physically open school. So, right now, that’s where the discussions lie at the moment,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany when describing the Trump administration’s priorities for the next coronavirus spending package.
Conservatives and libertarians have long advocated per-pupil expenditures following individual students, allowing them to escape failing public school systems for other institutions subject to parental choice. Suburban Republican voters with strong public school districts have been more reluctant to support ballot initiatives aimed at securing this outcome.
Yet a big question remains as to what Trump could actually do to promote greater choice if local school districts defy his calls to reopen. The federal government is only responsible for 8.5% of K-12 education spending nationally, and as Trump himself has conceded, it is primarily a state and local issue.