President Trump: Education is the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

President Trump visited Florida last week to highlight the success of the Sunshine State’s tax credit scholarship program. He spent time at St. Andrew’s Catholic High School in Orlando, one of 1,700 schools that take part in the program, which makes it possible for low-income students to attend the private or public school of their choice.

“Nearly 100,000 children across the state of Florida this year have been given more educational opportunities thanks to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program and schools like St.Andrew’s,” said John Kirtley, vice chairman of the American Federation for Children.

“As Denisha Merriweather showed the entire country this past Tuesday evening at President Trump’s joint address to Congress, a scholarship can end the cycle of poverty and provide a whole new direction in one’s life,” Kirtley added. “She embodies the true power of choice in education, and thousands more can be served by a program like Florida’s across the entire country.”

“As Denisha Merriweather showed the entire country this past Tuesday evening at President Trump’s joint address to Congress, a scholarship can end the cycle of poverty and provide a whole new direction in one’s life”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a noted school choice advocate, joined the president at St. Andrew’s. In a statement, DeVos said that the discussion at St. Andrew’s illustrates the transformative and positive impact of school choice.

“Children should not be denied the right to attend a high-quality school that allows them to pursue the American Dream,” the secretary said. She went on to say that parental empowerment and options are the way to give every child a chance. “We have an obligation to put parents in charge and provide every child with the chance to reach their full potential,” DeVos added.

Options such as the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) program work to do just that. The FTC allows corporations to contribute to nonprofits that, in turn, provide scholarships to qualifying K-12 students in need. Nearly 100,000 students are served by these scholarships, all of whom are from low-income families. The average income is $24,000 a year, and more than half of recipients are black or Hispanic. For minority groups, school choice can be especially important.

Nearly 100,000 students are served by these scholarships, all of whom are from low-income families.

A recent Pew Research poll found that Hispanic Americans are very concerned about the future of education in America. Some 73 percent of respondents said that improving education in America should be a top priority in 2017. It’s easy to see why. Out of nearly 1 million students in failing schools in Texas, 70 percent are Hispanic or African-American. In Florida, 70 percent of the 97,000 students who have used the tax-credit program to access educational options they couldn’t otherwise afford are black or Hispanic as well.

School choice also means results for students, especially minorities. In Chicago, for example, charter middle school students closed “just under half of the gap between the average disadvantaged, minority student in Chicago Public Schools and the average middle-income, non-minority student in a suburban district,” according to Caroline M. Hoxby and Jonah E. Rockoff for Education Next.

In Chicago, for example, charter middle school students closed “just under half of the gap between the average disadvantaged, minority student in Chicago Public Schools and the average middle-income, non-minority student in a suburban district”

Charter middle schools in Boston cut the black-white achievement gap in half “increas(ing) student performance by .5 standard deviations, the same as moving from the 50th to the 69th percentile in student performance.” Another report found that students who attended New York City’s charters from kindergarten through 8th grade “would close about 86 percent of the ‘Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap’ in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English.” This gap remains open to a larger degree the less time a student stays in district schools, the report found and, for every year a student is in charter high schools, their Board of Regents exam score is three points higher.

A report from the Center for Education Reform sums it up by saying that “a great number of charter schools are helping low-income, black, and Hispanic students close achievement gaps at unprecedented rates.”

The president’s trip to Florida in support of school choice makes clear that he is committed to expanding educational freedom and elevating education as the “civil rights issue of our time.”

Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @ameliahammy.

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