Right in between saying he would request half a billion dollars over the next 10 years for cancer research and pointing out his support for paid family leave, President Donald Trump said enacting school choice would help Americans:
To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.
Because the president provided no additional details about this plan to work with Congress to enact school choice legislation—which would presumably fund vouchers and similar education savings accounts and promote the build-up of charter schools—the most likely outcome of this brief reference in his second State of the Union address Tuesday will be, basically, nothing.
The Democratically-controlled House of Representatives isn’t likely to embrace efforts to expand charter schools or to give bigger tax breaks to parents who make independent choices for their children, as opposed to those who choose to send their children to public schools that are completely supported by taxes.
In the last year, for example, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pushed for a federal tax credit scholarship program that fell flat by the time it hit Capitol Hill. In addition, a $1 billion competitive-grant brought up by the Trump administration would have, in part, expanded vouchers as well. That also went nowhere.
In other words, odds aren’t good that Congress will pass any meaningful national school choice or voucher legislation before 2020.
Noticeably absent from the president’s speech were:
- Any talk of school safety
- Any reference to DACA or Dreamers
The notion of protecting schoolchildren at school against the threat of gun violence has been big news in terms of the state of the union this past year, but the president didn’t mention anything about it in his address.
A few high-profile members of Congress did invite people affected by gun violence in schools, though, despite the president’s failure to mention it. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, brought Fred Guttenberg to the State of the Union. He’s the father of Jaime Guttenberg, a Parkland victim, and an advocate for increased gun control. She also invited Charlie Mirsky, the co-founder and political director of March for Our Lives. Sen Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, brought Andrew Pollack, the father of a Parkland victim. He has spoken in support of the administration’s response to school violence.
“Trump’s actions speak louder than his rhetoric, as we have witnessed him push for the wrong priorities like building a border wall, arming teachers, giving tax cuts to the wealthy, and pushing for vouchers that siphon off money from public schools,” Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said in a statement. “The president should be investing in students, not walls.”
Speaking of walls, some of the president’s references—such as El Paso being a high-crime city—were probably false or exaggerated, but it can’t be denied that he pushed for the building of a wall along the border with Mexico.
“This is a moral issue,” the president said, referring to illegal immigration. “No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”
Yet the speech failed to make any reference to Democratic priorities regarding illegal immigration, including viable paths to citizenship for those brought to the country as children who are now protected under DACA. “We know bipartisanship could craft a 21st-century immigration plan,” Rep Stacey Abrams, Democrat of Georgia, said in the official Democratic response. “But this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart.”