SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee took his push for school choice to the White House on Monday, where he likely found listening ears.
After meeting with President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Utah Republican said he made the case of “educational pluralism,” which he described as the federal government’s one-size-fits-all education policy.
“It is opposed to the monopoly provision of K-12 education through public schools assigned by neighborhood residence. It favors getting civil society more involved in schooling decisions, even within public schools, so that community preferences and values may be better reflected in the education children receive,” Lee said in a statement.
The approach would require reforms primarily at the state and local levels, Lee said. Federal policy can promote it only at the margins, mostly by giving states more flexibility in how they spend federal education dollars, he said.
Lee has offered several school choice proposals over the years.
Last year, he introduced a bill to allow parents to use federal education Title I dollars to send their children to any public or private school. Title 1 funds go to schools with high enrollments of low-income students.
Lee said the plan puts parents back into their child’s education by giving them flexibility in how to finance it. Schools that parents could otherwise not afford would be an option, he said.
The senator has also touted a proposal permitting states to opt out of federal education reform that they determine has not improved academic achievement in favor of state initiatives. States would have the freedom to listen and respond to the needs and recommendations of parents, teachers, principals and school boards, he said.
Lee said states would be able to stretch their education dollars by consolidating programs and funding sources. The plan would also improve educational opportunities of disadvantaged children as state policies would be more responsive and targeted.
Trump said it’s time for school choice across the country in his State of the Union speech earlier this year.
The Trump administration announced an initiative to give $5 billion in tax credits for donations made to organizations offering scholarships for private schools, apprenticeships and other educational programs.
At a conference for conservative legislators in Arizona last week, DeVos pushed the plan to create “Education Freedom Scholarships” allowing businesses and individuals to get 100% federal tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting groups. Arizona has a program that uses tax credits to fund private school tuition scholarships.
Democrats have called the plan dead on arrival.
DeVos is a steadfast supporter of school choice initiatives, including charter schools and vouchers to help families pay for private schools. She previously headed the American Federation for Children, an organization that advocates for school choice.