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Explainer: The Trump Administration’s new educational choice proposal

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What just happened?

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), unveiled the Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS). The EFS is the Trump Administration’s primary plan to “expand and improve the education options available to students across the country.”

The proposed legislation establishes a federal tax credit to support state-designed and controlled school scholarship programs.

How can the EFS be used?

The individual states will be able to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers, and allowable education expenses. According to the Department of Education, some of the ways states could potentially use the EFS are to expand access to education programs and services for public school students enrolled in:

• District public schools, perhaps focusing on low-performing schools, or those in specific regions, such as urban or rural areas;

• Out-of-district public schools;

• Magnet schools;

• Public virtual schools; and

• Public charter schools.

The scholarships could potentially also be used to cover allowable education expenses as defined by states, including, but not limited to:

• Advanced courses, like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate;

• Elective courses, like art, music, or world languages;

• Credit recovery or other remedial courses;

• Tutoring services;

• Special education services and therapies not required by a student’s Individualized Education Program;

• Purchasing educational technology, including learning software or hardware.

• Transportation to education providers outside of a family’s zoned school;

• Open or dual enrollment allowing high school students to earn college credit; and

• Fees for summer education programs and specialized after-school education programs.

How are the scholarships funded?

EFS will be funded through voluntary contributions to state‐identified Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). Because the scholarships are completed funded though private donations, no monies will be taken from local public schools or school districts to fund the EFS.

Taxpayers who donate to EFS will then receive a non-refundable, dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit. Tax credits provide a dollar-for dollar reduction of your income tax liability. So a $1,000 donation to the EFS would lower a person’s tax payment by $1,000.

Does the Department of Education require states or schools to comply with the EFS?

No. Participation would be voluntary for students, schools, and states. “The key element of the proposal is freedom for all involved,” said Secretary DeVos. “Students, families, teachers, schools, states—all can participate, if they choose, and do so in the ways that work best for them. The major shift is that a student’s needs and preferences, not their address or family income, will determine the type and quality of education they can pursue.”

Image source: U.S. Department of Education

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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