Donald Trump to make ‘school choice’ a major topic at State of the Union address

President Donald Trump at the 2019 State of the Union address.

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump plans to use next week’s State of the Union speech to renew a call for tax breaks designed to provide more scholarships for students to attend private schools, two administration sources familiar with the address told USA TODAY Thursday.

Trump’s emphasis on school choice – a popular issue with his core supporters – will be part of a speech in which the president is likely to discuss themes central to his reelection message, including the economy, immigration and health care. 

In Tuesday’s prime-time speech, Trump will call for passage of long-pending legislation that would offer tax credits to people who donate money to nonprofit groups that provide scholarships to private schools.

The Education Freedom Scholarships legislation would provide up to $5 billion in federal tax credits to individuals and businesses who donate to scholarships for families to use at private, faith-based schools or to fund homeschooling. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has championed the proposal since taking office under Trump. 

During a White House “school choice roundtable” in December, Trump told allies that “for decades, countless children have been trapped in failing government schools.” The president said, “We believe that every parent should have educational freedom for their children.”

Opponents of the legislation said Trump’s plan would siphon badly needed funds from public schools.

The National Education Association said during a similar push by Trump last year that his administration is pursuing “failed voucher schemes.”

“If we’re serious about every child’s future, let’s get serious and ask educators what they need to provide every student with the opportunity to succeed,” the NEA said. “They’ll tell you we should not be starving resources from the public schools that 90% of America’s students attend.”

Two administration officials discussed the president’s State of the Union plans on condition of anonymity, saying the speech is in development.

Trump’s plan will face an uphill fight in Congress, especially in an election year.

During last year’s State of the Union, Trump made a brief mention of the topic, saying, “The time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.”

Two bills proposed in the wake of that speech continue to languish in Congress, though Trump officials said they have more than 100 co-sponsors for their plan.

Democrats who control the U.S. House have long opposed using public funds for private school tuition.

Trump administration officials traveled the country to promote what officials called National School Choice Week.

“The truth is that families that can afford private school tuition, or have the means to move out of a bad school zone, already have education freedom,” said Joe Grogan, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. “All American families need that freedom.”.

During an appearance Tuesday in Madison, Wis., Vice President Mike Pence said, “When parents are given the opportunity to choose the best school for their children – whether that’s public or private, parochial, Christian or home school – outcomes improve, kids do better, and education improves for everyone.”

Wisconsin Democrats accused the Trump administration of trying to tilt the field toward private schools.

“Trump and his cronies are sabotaging public education because it’s not their children who go to public schools,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler. “They’re handing massive tax cuts to the richest people in America while cutting funding for teachers, for training, for our school systems.”

During his State of the Union, Trump plans to introduce a guest who would benefit from school choice programs, officials said.

Contributing: Erin Richards 

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