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President Donald Trump, shown speaking during a Jan. 11 news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City. Trump has pledged to support school choice.

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Trump education nominee’s advocacy for school choice aligns with US bishops’ priorities
January 23rd, 2017
By Valerie Schmalz

One of the U.S. bishops’ top priorities for education – school choice – is aligned with the stated philosophy of President Donald Trump and the woman he has nominated to lead the U.S. Department of Education.

“Why in 2017 are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children?” asked Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos at her Senate confirmation hearing Jan. 17, while stating if she is confirmed she will also be a “strong advocate for great public schools.”

”I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that is best for each of their individual children,” said DeVos, described as a billionaire philanthropist who served as chairman of the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice.

In addition, during the hard-fought presidential campaign, Trump endorsed school choice both in an October letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference and on his campaign website. On the Trump-Pence campaign website, Trump promised to “Immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion toward school choice.” He also promised to “Establish the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school aged children living in poverty.”

The statements by Trump and by DeVos appear to align with the U.S. bishops’ support for school choice as outlined in the Secretariat of Catholic Education statement of legislative priorities for the 115th Congress on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

“We support legislative initiatives that promote parental choice in education, including reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (a voucher program for poor students that allowed them to attend Catholic and other private schools), expansion of tax-advantaged savings accounts for educational spending, and portability of funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” the bishops state in their priorities for the 115th Congress, which is now in session.

The term “parental choice” in the context of K-12 education typically refers to policies and programs that empower families to choose the best schools for their children, the bishops explain in “Parental Choice in K-12 Education: A Matter of Social Justice.” “Through parental choice programs, at-risk families whose children would otherwise attend assigned public schools are given financial resources enabling them to attend the school of their choice, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, both secular and religious private schools, and home schooling,” the essay notes.

In a comment sent to Catholic San Francisco on the topic, Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director of Catholic Education at the USCCB said, “Parental choice should give parents the freedom to truly choose, according to their conscience and religious convictions, what educational environment is best for their own children. This freedom should leave a parent truly free in mind and heart to partner with a school for the human flourishing of their own son or daughter.”

On the USCCB website, the bishops cite the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education: “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.”

The forms of parental choice outlined by the bishops in a policy statement on the website are:

– Opportunity scholarship programs which allow public education funding to “follow the child”;

– Scholarship tax credit programs in some states which allow individuals or corporations to donate to qualified nonprofit organizations in exchange for credit against their state tax liability and the organizations use the contributed funds to provide scholarships for eligible students interested in attending a private or Catholic school;

– Parental tuition tax credits that allow parents to take a tax credit for their child’s tuition to a private or Catholic school;

– Educational savings accounts which give parents a deposit of public funds into a government authorized savings account that then can be used for tuition and other school costs.

At present there are currently more than 30 parental choice programs operating in 17 states and the District of Columbia, the bishops state on their website. California has no school choice programs.

From January 26, 2017 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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