Trump Backs School Choice, But Religious Schools Should Be Wary of Federal Control

By John Zmirak Published on September 10, 2016

Donald Trump has made a bold move on education policy, U.S. News reports. And it leans in the right direction, backing both school choice and merit pay for teachers:

Trump’s plan would direct $20 billion in federal education spending to school choice policies that would give students and their families the option of attending traditional public schools, public charter or magnet schools, or even private schools.

“As your president I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice,” said Trump, speaking from the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy charter school Thursday afternoon. “I understand many stale old politicians will resist, but it’s time for our country to start thinking big and correct once again.”

Across America, millions of parents are paying double for education: In taxes for failing public schools dominated by far-left teachers’ unions, schools sexed up by Planned Parenthood propaganda and dumbed down by Common Core; then paying again in tuition for private schools, which their children can safely attend and actually learn something. But many parochial schools are closing, as working class parents struggle to pay even modest tuition. Meanwhile, public schools grossly underserve the neediest students in America: inner city kids from broken homes.

Naked Public Schools

In cities like New Orleans, charter schools have almost replaced the entire public school system, but charter schools are not a magic bullet. They are still government schools, resolutely secular and therefore artificially value-neutral on the most critical issues that impoverished children face. A charter school can tell a teenage girl that it’s imprudent to get pregnant, but not that it’s a sin. And we all know how much passionate teenagers care about the virtue of prudence.

While in past decades many public schools, thanks to local control, were de facto Christian-friendly or even broadly Protestant in ethos, aggressive litigation beginning in the early 1960s long ago liquidated most traces of explicit religious influence. By the 1970s, most public schools in America had become what 19th century Progressive Horace Mann had hoped they would be when he pressed for them: engines that helped to secularize the children of church-going parents.

School Choice Under Unrelenting Attack

Meanwhile, state plans for school choice are under unrelenting attack by public school teachers’ unions. As National Review reports, in Louisiana — home of some of the worst public schools in America — a successful and popular school choice plan is being gutted by a governor elected thanks to those unions’ money and politicking. The first budget submitted by Democrat John Bel Edwards

slashed choice-program funding by $6 million. As a result, hundreds of students and their families have seen their education futures endangered.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program, which was targeted for cuts — from $42 million to $36 million under Edwards’s new budget — is reserved for students from low-income backgrounds who attend low-performing schools. Over 7,000 Louisiana students benefit from the program, and they disproportionately come from minority backgrounds. In the face of these budget cuts, hundreds of children who had previously been given scholarships have been put on wait lists at their schools — putting their futures up in the air. Up to 1,000 students who thought they would benefit from the scholarship program would be affected by these cuts.

A similar program which Jeb Bush created while he was governor of Florida is constantly under assault by teachers unions, and likely would go on the chopping block the next time that state elects a Democratic governor.

So on the face of it, Trump’s plan to federally impose school choice sounds appealing. If his campaign staff know their business, they will make this education plan part of an outreach to Catholic voters. And perhaps some of the bishops heretofore preoccupied with backing mass immigration to fill up their emptying pews will be tempted by the prospect of keeping open their underfunded, but comparatively excellent schools.

Trump should also forefront the prominent black and Hispanic leaders who support educational choice as a crucial lifeline for students neglected by crumbling government schools.

Inevitable Strings

Nevertheless, the prospect of federal money sluicing directly into religious schools should not excite conservatives. It should terrify us. Just look at what President Obama has done via Title IX funding to impose transgender perversion on public schools. If vouchers start coming from Washington, D.C., count on the next Democratic president to exercise the same micromanagement over every church school that accepts them.

California Christian colleges just dodged such a bullet this year, as state legislators narrowly rejected a plan to use Title IX to demand that they abandon Christian sexual mores or lose crucial, routine funding.

A Better Way

There is a better way we could get much-needed education money into the hands of parents eager to send their kids to private school (or to homeschool them), a way to reimburse them for the taxes they pay to support schools they find immoral or simply unusable: Tuition tax credits that return to these parents every dime they pay in school taxes.

For poor parents who don’t pay much in taxes, a well-designed program could mimic the Earned Income Tax Credit, and send parents a check that they spend on their kids’ education as they see fit. The key to keeping such a program from turning into a leash held by Leviathan is to keep the financial transaction between the Feds and the parents, never directly involving any school or granting federal bureaucrats any say whatsoever over what such schools teach or how. Parents who claimed such credits would need to document that their children are enrolled in some law-abiding private school or certified home school program, following their state’s requirements laid out in its anti-truancy law.

Can we trust parents to spend that money on education? We trust them to spend their EITC money prudently in their children’s best interests. There is not a huge, mediocre government cafeteria looming in every American neighborhood, but somehow poor people figure out how to eat. We don’t issue poor children olive green government uniforms, but somehow they get clothed. We can trust poor parents to choose schools for their own children as well.

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  • Paul

    I agree that religious schools should be very warry of being funded by govt, but whether direct or indirect has the same ultimate peril.

    If parents must provide documentation to prove they have their kid enrolled in order to get the money then the means of fed control still exists. All that needs to happen is a future govt changes the rules on what schooling options are acceptable.

    As for the statement “We can trust poor parents to choose schools for their own children as well.” I actually expect we’ll see widespread abuse of these new found monies at the expense of the kids for who it is supposed to benefit. To think otherwise is foolishness considering how all the current trillions of dollars dumped into solving poverty doesn’t actually solve it because it doesn’t get to the poor decision making that often contributes to poverty. In fact I fully expect this will be another incentive for some to increase their baby factory behavior. Don’t fool yourself into the progressive thinking that adding more financial fuel will put out the fire of fraud. Nor should you stick your head in the sand that cash in hand won’t be grossly abused.

    • Chip Crawford

      This proposal does not come from a progressive, but with the baby factory pattern awareness, and with state administration in mind. It’s coming from a different ideology base, not the Democratic formula. The biggest problem may be Mr. Trump’s naivety about issues involved, but the goal is something that works and less government control. I do believe that and have heard the presentation several times. If you are wedded to your cynicism, there’s no openness for what has worked well in many sectors in the past.

      • Paul

        I’m wedded to being realistic, not sticking my head in the sand. If the cash is given directly to parents there will be abundant abuse of it. Denial won’t make it go away, just own it and show how exactly it will be addressed.

        • Chip Crawford

          So, what is your plan, realistic please. Don’t stick your head in an excuse or start denying. Own it and show it EXACTLY. BTW, interesting that you voted for your own comment up there. Oops.

          • Paul

            Classic diversion. I’m here to discuss the merits of the article that was posted. I never claimed to have a plan, whatever my plan may or may not be has no bearing on analyzing the content of the article. As for voting my own comment, It is something I tested and I was surprised I could do so, it’s something disqus or stream should fix.

            Let me know when you’re ready to discuss the article instead of trying to divert attention to me.

          • Chip Crawford

            You opened up the personalizing to which you refer. I am finding that disagreement with your position yields confusing diversionary tactics. When I find abuse and accusing used in this way, I wisely understand that there is no real interest in honest discussion. Despite that, I wish you the best. Good day. (You can click on your self vote to remove it if you have any actual interest in doing so.)

          • Paul

            Thanks for letting me know I could remove my vote, now that we have that behind us perhaps you could explain how giving tens of thousands of dollars of cash to parents won’t result in widespread abuse of the intended use of the funds. The author said we can simply trust people to do the right thing, but there is an abundance of examples of fraud among entitlements that makes that notion incredibly naive.

  • JayGoldenBeach

    “School choice” is part of the liberal agenda.

    • Hmmm…

      Actually not. Common core is what the liberals have going, with the teachers union block vote … The system makes for lazy teachers and poor school performance, of record. School choice is competition and higher standards and accountability.

  • Stenka Razin

    I sent my two kids to a charter school in the late 90’s in Az. It was absolutely excellent and had a great reputation in the state. Recently I found out that the schools hands are tied and they are now forced to teach Common Crap! Or else no state funding! It doesn’t matter how well a school teaches it’s students if it is required to offer Bill and Melinda Gates money making scheme for profit and for the subversion of American education.

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