As the post-election dust settles, the incoming Trump administration now has the chance to consider some immediate policy goals for the new year.
As a part of its top and immediate education priorities, the Trump administration should seize the opportunity to advance education choice for children in Washington, D.C., and reverse President Barack Obama’s policies that have grown federal intervention and stifled innovation in education.
This can be accomplished in three ways:
1. Supporting the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. One of the greatest opportunities to improve the prospects of poor and minority children will be right at the White House doorstep when President-elect Donald Trump assumes office.
The nation’s capital is home to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (D.C. OSP), which provides scholarships to children from low-income families to attend a private school of choice within the District.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has been overwhelmingly successful. Students in D.C. who used these scholarships to attend private schools had graduation rates 21 percentage points higher than their peers who applied for a voucher but did not receive one (the program is oversubscribed and a lottery was employed to award scholarships when demand outpaced supply).
Graduation rates for D.C. OSP students reached 91 percent, far outpacing graduation rates in D.C. Public Schools.
Despite this success—and for a fraction of what is spent in the public system (D.C. Public Schools’ per-pupil revenue exceeds $29,400 per student per year, compared to the voucher amount, which is up to $12,600)—the Obama administration has tried to phase out the program, creating uncertainty for families.
As a federal city, the next administration should support education choice in the District of Columbia by supporting the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (which is due for reauthorization), and should consider supporting policies that expand education choice to more District families.
2. Rescinding ESSA regulations. On Dec. 10, 2015, Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the eighth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the most recent successor to No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Although ESSA made some important changes to prescriptive and ineffective NCLB policies, lawmakers failed to enact reforms that genuinely restored state and local control of education. Not only were many conservative priorities absent from the bill that became law; the bill’s shortcomings are now being exacerbated by the Department of Education’s rulemaking process.
If the regulations that have been written by the department go into effect, ESSA will serve as a heavy-handed law that dictates the day-to-day affairs of local schools regarding spending, staffing, and accountability. This matters for states, local school districts, and the more than 49 million American schoolchildren who will be impacted by the law.
If the regulations as currently drafted are finalized, the next administration should rescind those regulations while supporting the longer-term conservative legislative policy priority of allowing states to opt-out from ESSA completely, as envisioned in the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act (A-PLUS).
3. Rolling back higher education regulations. Under the Obama administration, the Department of Education has supported policies that pick winners and losers in the higher education sector by, for example, promulgating regulations that unfairly single out for-profit colleges and universities.
The next administration should roll back two significant regulations: defense to repayment (regulation enabling the department to cancel the debt of students who can show their colleges have misrepresented the education students thought they would receive), and gainful employment (regulation that for-profit colleges and vocational programs must ensure their graduates’ loan repayments to not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary income), adversely affecting schools that serve nontraditional students.
Repealing such regulations would remove barriers to innovation in higher education and allow the marketplace to be a better determinant of quality, while also ensuring the federal government remains neutral on students’ and parents’ higher education choices.
Protecting education choice in the District would be a welcome change for low-income families in the nation’s capital, while signaling general support for policies that advance education choice.
Rolling back regulations weighing down ESSA would be a first step toward limiting federal intervention in local school policy, paving the way for more robust reforms in the year to come. And rescinding regulations unfairly targeting certain sectors of higher education would help ensure there is a market of higher education options that is diverse and reflects the varying needs of traditional and nontraditional students alike.
These are three important first steps in ensuring that students across America will begin to experience better and more diverse options in pursuing an education.