U.S. Education Secretary Besty Devos didn’t waste much time making a big push for her Education Freedom Scholarships after a prime time endorsement from President Donald Trump during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
The tax credit scholarships touted under the program would direct billions of dollars to private and religious schools.
In a statement, Devos said “education freedom is inevitable.”
“We know it works for students, and we know overwhelming majorities of Americans want it,” she said. “I’m grateful to the President [Trump] for his strong support of this proposal from day one and look forward to Congress acting quickly on this bipartisan issue and putting students’ needs above everything else.”
Here is what Trump had to say about the scholarships:
“For too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools,” Trump said. “To rescue these students, 18 states have created school choice in the form of opportunity scholarships.”
He went on to urge Congress to approve the measure.
“Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act,” Trump said, “because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.”
The proposed scholarship program is controversial. Opponents are critical of the measure, arguing that the program would divert scarce resources from public schools to private and religious schools.
“Donald Trump once again put the agenda of Betsy DeVos, the least qualified Secretary of Education in U.S. history, front and center in his State of the Union,” tweeted Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.
Under the $5 billion proposal, individuals and corporations would receive a tax credit for contributing to state-sanctioned scholarship funds. Through a reduction to their federal taxes, donors could get back all of the money contributed for scholarships.
Meanwhile, families would use the donated money to pay for private school tuition and other approved expenses.
North Carolina already has a school voucher program that makes public dollars accessible to private schools.
Nearly $45 million was made available to families through the Opportunity Scholarship Program during the 2017-18 school year, and $37.7 million was distributed among 9,640 students during the 2018-19 school year.
Opponents of the scholarships are critical of them because they divert public money to private use. They also complain that private schools are free to discriminate by turning away students who are gay or transgender, have disabilities, or who don’t subscribe to a religious doctrine.