MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 11th of February, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: school choice.
During his State of the Union address last week, President Trump called attention to the plight of children stuck in bad schools.
TRUMP: 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. 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 a waiting list.
To make that wait a bit shorter, the president wants Congress to approve a measure called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act. The bill would authorize tax breaks for people who donate to scholarship funds for low-income students or to help parents who home-school.
In the past, various bills like it have gone nowhere, but that may change.
REICHARD: Joining us now to talk about it is John Schilling. He is president of the American Federation for Children, an organization that supports school choice. Good morning, John!
JOHN SCHILLING, GUEST: Good morning!
REICHARD: Well, this is enough of a priority for the Trump administration as you heard there. But not all Republicans are behind him on this one. Why do you think not and how big a problem is that for school choice?
SCHILLING: Well, a good many are. We’ve got 114 co-sponsors in the Congress. We’d like to get a lot more. I think it’s really just a matter of continuing to educate members about why this is a good thing for education, why this is a good thing for kids, why this is a really good policy and good politics.
REICHARD: It seems unlikely this bill will get passed between now and November. But what about next year? Or the year after that? Do you see any path forward for a program like this?
SCHILLING: Sure, absolutely! I think one of the things that the president has noted is that he has said that no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school. We could not agree more. There isn’t a lot that gets done in election years. We’ve got to be honest about that. The most that’s going to get done in an election year is passing some budgets.
But I think we’re doing a good job. The administration is doing a good job of laying the groundwork and building support in Congress, getting members on the record so when we come back in 2021 with the election year behind us, I think we’ll be poised to move this.
REICHARD: The president mentioned that tens of thousands of students are on waiting lists for scholarships in 18 states. Expand on that a bit. Are those programs equally popular among the states? Do states that don’t have those programs want to start them?
SCHILLING: Oh, sure. So, currently there are 26 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico that have some type of private school choice program. And that could be a voucher, a tax-credit scholarship, or an education savings account.
There are 18 states that have these tax-credit scholarship programs and that is what the Education Freedom Scholarships bill is modeled after. And I’ll just take one state that the president referenced in his State of the Union address—the state of Pennsylvania. The Democratic governor of Pennsylvania—Governor Wolf—vetoed a bill that would have expanded this program. And it would have allowed another 50,000 kids. 50,000 kids are unable to get into this program because there isn’t enough funding.
So those wait lists are pretty common. Not only in tax-credit scholarship programs, but in other private choice programs around the country that have dollar caps on them. And so the Education Freedom Scholarships bill, which is a $5 billion tax credit, it would be funded entirely from corporate and individual contributions to non-profit scholarship granting organizations who would hand out the scholarships. This would add $5 billion to K-12 education in America and also provide a little help for apprenticeships.
REICHARD: Well, your organization conducts a school choice poll each year. What’s the most recent finding?
SCHILLING: Well, quite honestly, it is very difficult to find a public policy issue today that has more support across ideological and demographic lines. We have about 69 percent of likely voters who support the concept of school choice. And this is spread out across the board. 57 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of Independents, 84 percent of Republicans. When you start getting into Latino support, African American support, Millennial support, the support raises from 71 percent to 82 percent among Latinos.
It’s just phenomenal the support that exists out there for school choice. And when you look at this, you know, normally when policymakers see numbers like this, they want to rush to enact new bills. Well, we’re waiting for them to do that.
REICHARD: When a kid is having trouble in school, the cadillac response is to hire a one-on-one tutor so that you get one-on-one education tailored to the needs of that particular child. Could you speak to why one size fits all public education doesn’t address that?
SCHILLING: Children are not widgets. Every child is unique. Every child’s learning style is unique. And the beauty of school choice is what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to give families the freedom to choose the best educational environment for their child.
Now, that could mean the traditional government-run public school right down the street. But for a lot of kids, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t meet their needs. And so what you want to do here is you want to create a lot of options so parents have the ability to choose from a number of options so that they can find the best fit for their child.
REICHARD: John Schilling is president of the American Federation for Children. Thanks for joining us today.
SCHILLING: Thank you very much!