It’s not always easy to tell when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is serious about a policy. So it’s not a surprise to hear many are skeptical over the real estate tycoon’s recent announcement.
This Thursday, Trump unveiled his school choice plan while speaking from the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy charter school. During the event, Trump promised to “be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice” once he’s elected.
“I understand many stale old politicians will resist,” Trump continued, “but it’s time for our country to start thinking big and correct once again.”
But despite the enthusiasm, Trump’s official website lacks detailed information about his school choice policies. What we know so far is that the Republican candidate would direct $20 billion in federal education spending to policies that would give students the opportunity to attend any school of their choosing, whether it’s a traditional public school, a public charter, or a private institution.
But school choice, much like any other service, works best when left to the states. That’s where local communities are given the opportunity to tweak the system so it may meet their own needs. Centralization, after all, forces states to play by the federal government’s rules, stifling the advances sparked by competition between state policies.
According to Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey, Trump’s heart is in the right place. After all, school choice is “the key to empowering parents to get the education that is best for their unique children, and for educators to teach how they want and try new, innovative approaches.” But when it comes to allowing the federal governments to set the rules, McCluskey adds, things might get messier:
“The federal government has no constitutional authority to meddle in education, and as it has proven over the last several decades — including by coercing states to adopt the Common Core — once it starts paying for education it starts controlling it, telling everyone what to do and how to do it.”
Instead of giving the power to the federal government to dictate how school choice should work, an increase in power that could even give federal regulators the power to “impose mandates on curriculum and more,” even when it comes down to homeschooling.
At first, the idea sounds promising. But once you allow federal regulators to impose their own agenda, school choice rules may change over time with each new administration, jeopardizing the future of children who need school choice the most.
So instead of taking his support to school choice to the White House, Trump is better off leaving it to the states, where legislators are more accessible and parents have the opportunity to demand attention.