Why A Federal School Choice Program May Be The Dumbest Way For Trump To Promote School Choice

Why A Federal School Choice Program May Be The Dumbest Way For Trump To Promote School Choice

Any Republican who proposes expanding rather than ending the federal government's power over education is whistling past the graveyard federalization has made of American education.
Joy Pullmann
By

Some of President Obama’s most egregious abuses of power employed the U.S. Department of Education. That department, and federal laws authorizing its duties, is how his administration imposed Common Core on the nation. A decade later, Common Core has massively failed despite billions spent, but that likely won’t even lay a speed bump beneath the next plan for nationalizing the nation’s schools.

Obama’s U.S. Department of Education also abused federal law to impose race-based discipline rules on the nation’s schools that assisted the Parkland school shooter and made many public schools dens of chaos. That department ignored the plain text and settled interpretation of the law to demand that all the nation’s public schools facilitate transgender bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports. That department  abused its power to spend billions of dollars on “school turnarounds” that evidence showed would not work, long before the money was spent.

Congress has redressed precisely none of these national embarrassments, despite two years of Republicans controlling both branches and the presidency and plenty of promises. Further, not only can none of these serious injuries the federal government has done to the nation’s children be undone, all indications are that any Democrat successor would go even farther than Obama did. Any Republican who proposes expanding rather than ending the federal government’s power over education is whistling past the graveyard it has made of American education.

Yet that’s precisely what we get from the Trump administration’s backing of Sen. Ted Cruz’s new proposal to create a $5 billion federal school choice program funded by tax credits. The money — and thus the federal strings — could go to public schools, private schools, home schools, even after-school and vocational programs. In other words, this creates the potential for federal control of every single kind of education program in the country.

Memo to GOP: Democrats Don’t Care What the Law Says

Further, this program is likely to compete with existing choice programs because its deduction is higher than all the current state tax deductions offered for private scholarship donations. Cruz’s legislation would let individuals and corporations deduct the full amount (100 percent) of their donations from their federal tax bills, while most states let individuals and corporations deduct between 50 and 90 percent. Nice little school choice program ya got there. Be a pity if the federal government siphoned away its funding pool.

Having multiple, state-driven school choice programs rather than one dominant federal one makes it harder for the left to colonize institutions other people have built through blood, sweat, and tears. Cruz’s bill summary insists that “nothing in this act shall be construed to permit, allow, encourage, or authorize any increased regulation or control over any aspect of a participating educational provider, scholarship granting organization, or workforce training organization. This allows all education providers to be able to participate, without fear of federal control.”

This sounds great, but it’s Precious Moments-level naive and betrays embarrassing ignorance of education policy and history. Several major federal laws have prohibited the U.S. Department of Education from meddling with testing or curriculum for decades, including since the department’s inception. The department has steadfastly ignored these laws, getting around them the same way the agency’s existence gets around the Constitution’s prohibition on federal involvement in education: by paying subsidiary organizations to do what it is legally prohibited from doing.

This is precisely how the federal government drove curriculum by funding Common Core’s national tests (and curriculum those test organizations created) and pushed nearly all the nation’s schools into Common Core itself, all while Obama officials lied their heads off about how they weren’t violating legal bans on their influence over curriculum. If they did it once, they’ll do it again. They simply don’t care what the law says.

Making more laws is not going to change this department’s refusal to obey the laws. Only removing their power will. This department’s waste, fraud, and abuse of America’s children and taxpayers needs to end, not be expanded in the name of school choice.

Federal Power over Education Has Gone Rogue

Have Republicans learned nothing from the myriad scandals under Obama’s executive agencies? The Internal Revenue Service under Lois Lerner, for example, abused conservative groups in a blatant misuse of federal power for political gain. Years later, the lawbreakers have gotten off not only scot-free but with public pensions. There has been no justice for the Americans whose rights they abused.

So with both the IRS and USED overseeing this program, the danger remains. None of the IRS saboteurs has been brought to justice, and now they are used to subverting the law and Americans’ constitutional rights and getting away with it. If anything, then, the danger is worse now than it was under the Obama administration.

The Trump administration has been beset by “resistance” members marbled throughout every federal agency openly attempting to subvert the will of the people as expressed through the 2016 election results and the duly passed laws on the books. We see fresh evidences of this weekly in news reports replete with anonymous and even named sources, who are cockily confident that their insubordination cannot get them fired thanks to civil service employment rules. USED is one of the worst agencies in this regard.

We the people are forced to pay for the extremely comfortable salaries and short work weeks of the saboteurs who openly defecate on our laws and representatives who embody the consent of the governed. We are not just forced to fund but also to live under the rules they make in open defiance of our wishes. This is not a republic; it is not even a democracy. It is tyranny.

The Left Despises Religious People and Their Schools

Cruz’s bill also contains language it clearly hopes will safeguard the program against being used as a weapon by a Kamala Harris or Cory Booker presidency against faithful religious schools. That’s because the left’s hostility against religious people has risen to an alarming level.

This is again hopelessly naive. Apparently none of these people has paid attention to the way the left has been treating Karen Pence’s Christian school even though it doesn’t receive any federal funds. We are in a culture where schools being Christian is enough grounds to threaten schools’ accreditation and participation in extracurriculars such as sports.

Do they really think a President Harris or Warren’s education department would not threaten states that allow “bigoted” institutions to serve more families simply because the authorizing law for this program includes language ostensibly protecting religious people? Our nation’s highest law, the U.S. Constitution, protects religious liberty, and that has stopped precisely none of the left’s war on faith.

Do they really think religious schools that have grown financially dependent on such a program might not fold when faced with new transgender rules or other bans on practicing their religion in their own schools? This law might forbid regulations affecting faith, but it doesn’t stop a Democratic president from applying pressure in other ways, such as withholding federal K-12 funds from states that don’t regulate their choice programs as Democrats please.

Do they really think faith-hostile Democrats wouldn’t leap at the opportunity to use a federal program to regulate private education and religion across the nation, including homeschooling? Ah, but that would probably be litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. No fear!

Right, so it’s acceptable to throw the nation’s private education options into chaos for however long it takes courts to possibly secure their constitutional rights? People. Read some headlines once in a while, please. The left is waging a political and cultural war, and Republicans are still imagining it’s all just a game of croquet.

Here’s the Federal Voucher Program We Need

We do, in fact, need a federal voucher program, but we need the vouchers to go directly to states, strings free. We need the federal government to stop taxing Americans then telling their states how they have to spend those dollars if they want to get any of their citizens’ money back for schools (with a nice little chunk taken to pay bureaucrats for their meddling). The only federal voucher program that should merit any consideration is a steadily declining block-grant to states that eventually terminates federal involvement in education, period.

That’s the concept behind the A-PLUS Act, which has been repeatedly introduced but sidelined, particularly by Senate leaders whose “expertise” on education has made them dumber than a box of rocks. They have overseen years of increased spending on education with no improvements for children or taxpayers to show for it.

Lots of Republicans talk a big game about school choice, but their actions speak a lot louder than their words. They preach about how smart and capable parents are of making decisions for their children, then preside for decades over interlocking education monopolies that strangle parents’ ability to do just that. They march in school choice parades, then insist on delegating power over what these choices look like to bureaucrats who have little to no proven record of improving even one child’s academic trajectory and don’t know even the names of the children they presume to control.

They rail against “a national school board” and preside over billions of dollars in annual spending to a federal agency that effectively acts as one. I’ll start believing these politicians actually care about choice and our constitutional right to be free of federal education meddling when they start doing things that promote self-government in education instead of shouting “school choice” while doing the opposite. The top agenda item for any person serious about reforming U.S. education should be slashing federal involvement, not expanding it through brightly painted Trojan horses.

Joy Pullmann (@JoyPullmann) is executive editor of The Federalist, mother of five children, and author of "The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids." She identifies as native American and gender natural. Her latest ebook is a list of more than 200 recommended classic books for children ages 3-7 and their parents.
Photo White House / public domain

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