Trump’s SOTU Gives Big Thumbs Up to Education Choice

By Chris Talgo and Lennie Jarratt

President Donald Trump is known to flash the thumbs up sign every now and again, and during his recent State of the Union address the president provided a double-barrel thumbs up on education choice.

During his 77-minute oration to both houses of Congress (and to his boss, the American people) Trump went all-in on education choice as a significant aspect of his domestic agenda going forward. This should be welcome news to supporters of education choice, because history shows Trump (unlike most politicians) actually keeps his campaign promises.

According to Trump, education choice can be boiled down to a rather simple premise: No student should be trapped in a failing government school.

According to the president, “The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.” Sounds like common sense.

The president continued, “Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 states have created school choice in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The programs are so popular, that tens of thousands of students remain on waiting lists.” Okay, here is a simple solution: implement more (or universal) school choice programs.

However, here is where things get tricky. Apparently, not all politicians believe that parents should have the opportunity to choose where they send their children to school.

To put this in perspective, Trump offered this personal anecdote: “One of those students is Janiyah Davis, a fourth grader from Philadelphia. Janiyah’s mom Stephanie is a single parent. She would do anything to give her daughter a better future. But last year, that future was put further out of reach when Pennsylvania’s governor vetoed legislation to expand school choice for 50,000 children.”

Why in the world would a governor veto a bill that is strongly supported by constituents across the political spectrum? Well, maybe the governor of Pennsylvania (and several other politicians) is more interested in pleasing/appeasing teacher unions than doing what is in the best interest of students.

To undo the damage wrought by Pennsylvania’s out-of-touch governor, Trump offered Janiyah a scholarship so she can realize her dream of attending a high-performing school outside the control of the government industrial education complex.

Then, the president suggested this simple and sound solution: “Now, I call on the Congress to give one million American children the same opportunity Janiyah has just received. Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act—because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.”

The president is 100 percent correct in his statement that “for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools.” As of this writing, literally hundreds of thousands of students remain on wait lists to escape their failing government schools. Every year a student remains on a wait list is another year they fall behind their peers and are delayed from reaching their full potential. These delays should not be tolerated. States need to act ASAP to address this growing problem.

While most education choice advocates do not want to see more federal intervention into state education policy, the Education Freedom Scholarship (EFS) is a solid solution. Keeping with the principle of federalism, “The Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS) proposal creates a $5 billion annual federal tax credit for businesses and individuals who voluntarily donate to scholarship granting organizations (SGOs).”

Even better, EFS would “provide scholarships to empower families to choose the right education option for their elementary and secondary students, which may be an independent or faith-based private school or a home education.”

And last but certainly not least, “States, not the Federal Government, identify SGOs and determine how to structure scholarship programs, including eligible students, education providers, and education expenses.” Hallelujah, federalism is not dead, after all.

Perhaps the president put it best when describing his approach to education choice: “My administration is determined to give our citizens the opportunities they need regardless of age or background.” How can anyone possibly disagree with this?

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is an editor at The Heartland Institute. Lennie Jarratt ([email protected]) is the director of the Center for Education Opportunities for The Heartland Institute.