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A Primer to School Choice: What’s in Store for K-12 Education under the Trump Administration?

July 22, 2017

Although school choice is currently a hot topic in the news, the alternative approach to K-12 education is not always well understood. This primer to school choice will explain what school choice means, present the school choice movement and its surrounding debate, and connect the ideology to current federal policy priorities outlined by the Trump Administration.

What is School Choice?

School choice is the ideology that believes that parents should be able to select the K-12 schooling option that best fits their child’s educational needs. According to EdChoice, an education reform organization, “school choice allows public funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs.” [1] There are a number of different types of school choice, but the most well-known U.S. reforms are voucher programs, charter schools, and education savings accounts. [2]

The School Choice Movement

The school choice movement was born in the 1950s when economist Milton Friedman proposed a new approach to education. He believed that government schools are inefficient because they lack the incentive to respond to consumer demand, and as a result, do not seek the information or motivation needed to deliver the best education to students. Instead of allowing the government to allocate children to schools based on their residential location, Friedman believed that the government should be removed completely from allocation decisions.

Instead of the government deciding where students should go to school, Friedman proposed that parents should be the ones making that decision. He argued that parents are more motivated than the government to make choices based on what is in the child’s best educational interest, and they also possess better information than officials do about what their child needs in a school. [3]

Today, the school choice movement in the United States manifests itself in a few different types of reforms. As mentioned earlier, the largest three types of reforms include school vouchers, charter schools, and education savings accounts.

The school voucher program provides funding in the form of a credit to families who can use the funds to pay for tuition at private schools. Currently, there are 25 voucher programs in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Charter schools are schools that receive public funds but are independently operated. Oftentimes charters are operated by non-profit and for-profit entities, and they are accountable to public authorities by a varying amount of degree. Finally, education savings accounts are savings accounts set up by a state with a fixed amount of money inside of them that allow parents finance a range of educational costs approved by the state.

The School Choice Debate

As with any major policy initiative, there are supporters and critics of the school choice movement. Supporters believe that all parents should have the right to choose the best school for their child, and by giving parents this liberty, it causes failing public schools to have greater incentive to reform due to competition from other institutions in the marketplace.

Furthermore, supporters believe that students of all socioeconomic classes should have the opportunity to escape failing public schools and attend a private school even if they do not have the financial means to do so. By investing public dollars in some of the above-mentioned types of school choice reforms, supporters believe that this ideal can be made possible.

Opponents of the school choice movement argue that the public school system should not be run like a business, as choice supporters advocate for with creating marketplace competition because students are not products. Furthermore, critics say that by simply removing public funds and students from the traditional public education system, the government is failing to fix the problems public schools face and are causing the system to collapse further.

Critics also argue that investing public dollars into private schools that may be religious in nature violates the church-state separation integral to American society, and they are also worried that public dollars could be misused under the choice model since choice schools are not accountable to the public the same way that traditional public schools are. [5]

Image: Proposed changes to major grant program spending at Department Education under Trump Administration. Image: Education Week.Image: Proposed changes to major grant program spending at Department Education under Trump Administration. Image: Education Week.

School Choice under the Trump Administration

It is President Trump’s and Secretary DeVos’ policy priority to expand school choice. Trump and DeVos have openly expressed great disapproval of public schools and believe that the way to reform the education system in the United States is through the school choice movement.

Most Republicans are big choice supporters, so Trump and DeVos’ support for the movement does not come at a surprise. DeVos represents the “free-market believer” members of the school choice debate who want very little regulation over the education market so the market forces of supply and demand are able to autonomously drive the system to equilibrium. [6]

In order to bolster school choice, President Trump’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Department of Education budget allocates over one billion dollars to school choice efforts. This FY18 initiative is called Creating New Education Options through School Choice, and it offers $1.4 billion dollars toward new public and private school choice opportunities.

This $1.4 billion increase in school choice spending breaks down as follows: $1 billion increase to Title I funding for a new grant program, Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS), $250 million increase for Education Innovation and Research programs, and $167 million increase for Charter Schools Grants program. [7]

If approved by Congress, DeVos’ Department of Education will spend an unprecedented amount of money to expand school choice. It is important to note however, that Trump’s proposed education budget has faced criticism by both sides of the aisle in Congress, so only time will tell what the true level of investment this administration will be permitted to use to expand school choice options.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

 

References

  [1] “What Is School Choice? - The Friedman Foundation.” EdChoice. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2017.

  [2] The Congressional Digest: School Choice. 96 Vol. Congressional Digest, 01/01/2017. Web. 26 June 2017.

  [3] Brighouse, Harry. Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy: School Choice. Sage Publications, 01/01/2014. Web. 26 June 2017.

  [4] Strauss, Valerie. “What ‘school Choice’ Means in the Era of Trump and DeVos.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 22 May 2017. Web. 11 July 2017.

  [5] Strauss, Valerie. “What ‘school Choice’ Means in the Era of Trump and DeVos.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 22 May 2017. Web. 11 July 2017.

  [6] Strauss, Valerie. “What ‘school Choice’ Means in the Era of Trump and DeVos.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 22 May 2017. Web. 11 July 2017.

  [7] United States of America. U.S. Department of Education. Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. N.p., 23 May 2017. Web. 11 July 2017.

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RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT:

  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
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  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>