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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 15, 2020
Emily Venezky
By Emily Venezky July 15, 2020

Federal funding for school choice is increasing only minimally

At the top of the education goals Donald Trump released during his 2016 campaign was a promise to add $20 billion in federal funding to school choice programs.

School choice programs direct public money to public charter schools and private school scholarships. Alternatives to public schools have grown more popular in the past 15 years, with charter school enrollment tripling between 2005 and 2016, and private school voucher programs now including 538,900 students nationwide. 

Supporters of school choice programs say they give parents, including those whose children are zoned for poorly performing schools, more free options for their children. Critics of school choice say that the money should be directed instead toward improving local public schools and that some programs provide less transparency than government-run school districts.

Trump's administration has made small increases in funding for existing federal school choice programs, but it hasn't gotten any new legislation passed or significantly expanded funding.

Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have pushed for new federally funded school choice programs, but none of their programs have received enough support to pass in Congress.

The most recent large piece of legislation DeVos introduced was the Education Freedom Scholarships. DeVos announced on Feb 28, 2019, that the new legislation would provide $5 billion in annual tax credits for donors who gave to state-based scholarship programs.

The bill is meant to support school choice for individual families without taking away from federal or local funding for public schools. It was introduced in the House and the Senate in 2019 and is still being considered by the respective committees of both chambers.

Trump and DeVos have tried to add school choice programs to the budget but they have not been included in the final budgets approved by Congress. 

The only increase in funding for non-public schools in the federal budget has been an increase of about $40 million in yearly grant money for the Charter School Program, which has existed since 2015. But Trump's 2021 budget proposal gets rid of funding for the program entirely.

Since 2004, the federal government has also funded the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded private-school voucher program. In 2019, the program got a $2.5 million increase in funding.

In June, DeVos issued a rule that forces school districts to share the CARES Act funding they are receiving for COVID-19 relief with private schools. There are two options for how school districts can decide to split the funds. A  Learning Policy Institute analysis shows that under one option, private schools could receive $1.5 billion from the CARES Act.

Overall, no new major funding programs for school choice have been put in place during the Trump administration. There have been some minimal funding increases, but they add up to about $1 billion, not $20 billion. We rate this Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Trump Campaign 2016, Education, Jan 1, 2017

EdChoice, What is School Choice?, accessed on July 2, 2020

Education Week, How School Choice Is About to Fundamentally Change, July 16, 2018

EdChoice, School Choice Fast Facts and Statistics, accessed on July 2, 2020

Washington Post, Analysis | Three big problems with school 'choice' that supporters don't like to talk about, May 3, 2017

New York Times, Betsy DeVos Backs $5 Billion in Tax Credits for School Choice, Feb 28, 2019

U.S. Department of Education, Fast Facts: Education Freedom Scholarships, Feb 28, 2019

Library of Congress, H.R.1434 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, accessed on July 2, 2020

Library of Congress, S.634 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, accessed on July 2, 2020

Education Week, Trump Fails in Bid to Slash Education Budget, April 10, 2018

Education Writers Association, Does Trump's Education Budget Even Matter?, Feb 13, 2018

Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter School Programs (CSP) Grants to State Entities, accessed on July 2, 2020

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, House and Senate Agree on $440 Million Spending Agreement for the Federal Charter Schools Program, Dec 17, 2019

Chalkbeat, The Trump administration wants to cut federal education spending — including money for charter schools, Feb 10, 2020

Serving Our Children, The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, accessed on July 2, 2020

Congressional Research Service, District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC OSP): Overview, Implementation, and Issues, March 7, 2019

NPR, Education Dept. Rule Limits How Schools Can Spend Vital Aid Money, June 25, 2020

Learning Policy Institute, COVID-19 and School Funding: What to Expect and What You Can Do, April 22, 2020

Email exchange with Eric Jotkoff, Senior Communications Strategist at the National Education Association, July 1, 2020

By Allison Colburn August 31, 2017

School choice advocates won’t see $20 billion any time soon

Among President Donald Trump's education goals was a promise to "immediately" allocate $20 billion in federal money toward school choice initiatives.

He proposed that the money could be distributed to states with school choice laws and programs, thereby encouraging the other states to get on board. "School choice" is an umbrella term for a variety of programs and laws with one essential goal — to allow public funding to follow K-12 students to a public or private school other than neighborhood school assigned to them based on residential boundary lines. These include voucher programs, charter schools, magnet schools, and tax-credit programs.

After his inauguration, Trump has asked Congress to create a national school voucher program and to allot $1.4 billion toward school choice in the FY 2018 budget.

Congress has yet to do either, and doesn't seem interested in doing so in the future.

The House Appropriations Committee rolled out a spending plan in July that largely ignored the Trump administration's requests to increase charter school spending by $167 million, create a new $250 million private school voucher program and add $1 billion in Title I funding earmarked for school choice initiatives.

The House spending plan did include one small win for Trump — a $28 million increase in charter school spending. (This is not unprecedented. Charter school funding increased by more than $125 million during the Obama administration.)

On the surface it might look like charter schools will receive more money should the proposed budget pass; however, a broader look at the agency's budget shows potential deep cuts to other areas of the education spending plan.

For instance, both Trump and the House proposed eliminating a more than $2 billion teacher training and class-size reduction program that serves publicly funded schools, including charter schools.

Another notable example is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, a $1.2 billion after-school program for low-income students. The funding is allotted to schools, both public and private, nonprofits and community organizations that meet eligibility requirements. Trump asked Congress to eliminate this program; the House wants its funding to be reduced by $200 million.

In all, the House proposed $2.4 billion in cuts to education.

Trump requested a $9.2 billion reduction, which is 13.5 percent of the department's budget.

Our ruling

Trump had promised to "immediately" award $20 billion in federal funding toward school choice. His 2018 budget proposal asked for significantly less, and so far, Congress hasn't taken him up on the offer.

Furthermore, Trump's proposed cuts to other education programs would take away funding that would have otherwise gone to schools included in school choice, not just traditional public schools.

He could eventually increase funding for school choice in future legislation, but for now we rate this promise Stalled.

Our Sources

Donald Trump presidential campaign website, "Education," screengrab from Jan. 1, 2017

White House Press Office, "Remarks by President Trump at a School Choice Event," May 3, 2017

House Appropriations Committee news release, "Appropriations Committee Releases the Fiscal Year 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Funding Bill," July 12, 2017

House Appropriations Committee, FY 2018 spending bill - full committee report, July 19, 2017

White House Office of Management and Budget, FY 2018 budget proposal, May 23, 2017

U.S. Department of Education news release, "Education Budget Prioritizes Students, Empowers Parents, Saves Taxpayer Dollars," May 23, 2017

U.S. Department of Education website, 21st Century Community Learning Centers eligibility requirements, accessed Aug. 31, 2017

U.S. Department of Education website, Title II, Part A - teacher and principal training, accessed Aug. 31, 2017


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