By Dr. Elizabeth Primas
When the best educators in America traveled to Washington, D.C. for a series of events celebrating innovation in the classroom and to share best practices in K-12 education, they let officials at the Department of Education and the White House know exactly how they felt about the Trump Administration’s current push for school choice programs.
According to edchoice.org, school choice programs allow, “public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs—whether that’s to a public school, private school, charter school, home school.”
In April 2018, the Department of Education (ED) hosted the “Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s Drum Major Legacy: Innovative Pathways to Success” celebration; the event was sponsored by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in collaboration with the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The Education Department’s MLK Legacy event honored individuals who perform extraordinary acts of service in their communities, specifically those individuals who support high-quality education for children of color. Many of the awardees work with parents or community groups that provide primary care for children; some even provide educational support services outside of the traditional public school model.
School choice became a hot topic during the event, as several attendees were visibly disgruntled at the mention of the controversial approach.
The Trump Administration has proposed to decrease funding to authorized investments for public schools while increasing funding opportunities for school choice programs and private school vouchers. Ninety percent of children in America attend public schools. Increased funding to school choice programs, while reducing funding to public schools is a strategy that leaves behind our most vulnerable students.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has repeatedly said that she’s committed to uphold the intentions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the education law signed by President Barack Obama. However, the prioritization of school choice programs in the proposed FY2019 budget contradicts one of the original intentions of the law: to promote equity and increase access to high-quality education for all students. Furthermore, prioritization of school choice isolates homeless children, migrant children, youth in foster care and children from military families. In fact, ESSA requires that school districts report student outcomes for these groups for the very first time.
The 2018 Teacher of the Year awardees echoed similar concerns during their annual White House visit in April. The top teachers in the country reported that they did not approve of funding private schools at the expense of their most vulnerable, at-risk students.
Every child should be entitled to high-quality education in the United States of America. Every neighborhood school should be equipped to provide high-quality courses and curriculum. Every student should have highly-qualified teachers and a menu of extra-curricular activities to choose from. Until the administration prioritizes the equitable improvement of all schools, their verbal commitment to uphold the original intent of ESSA is just another “alternative fact.”
Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act at nnpa.org/essa.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. Dr. Primas is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow Dr. Primas on Twitter @ElizabethPrima3.