The Trump administration’s proposed education budget for 2021 slashes federal funding for charter schools. Though controversial, this move could actually benefit students by loosening national control of education and giving states more flexibility to address students’ needs.
Although the budget cuts seem to be a complete reversal of the administration’s professed support for school choice, the fact that charter schools would no longer receive specifically allocated money from the federal government doesn’t mean that they’ll no longer be funded. It just means that they would be funded in a different way.
Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, have received federal dollars through the Federal Charter Schools Program since 1994, according to the Washington Post. The proposed budget would effectively eliminate this program, instead lumping money for charter schools into block grants dedicated to education.
The block grants, which are about $20 billion each, would be given to the states to spend as they see fit. U.S. News reported that the block grants would also include money for school safety, teacher training, arts and civics programs, and more.
According to a White House budget document, the goal of consolidating federally-funded education programs into block grants is “to give States and school districts the flexibility to better meet the needs of their students and families, eliminating Federal intrusion into State and local education systems.”
This statement demonstrates the administration’s belief that state and local governments have a better idea of what their students need than the federal government does. And in the wake of failed national initiatives like Common Core and No Child Left Behind, they have a point.
According to the Washington Post, some charter school leaders fear that if the choice to fund charters is left up to the states, their schools will receive little to no money.
However, state governments are more accountable to their constituents, and the growing popularity of charter schools implies that parents will be clamoring for more charters. In fact, the percentage of students attending charter schools in the U.S. more than tripled from two to seven percent between 2000 and 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Giving states the ability to choose how much money they want to dedicate to charter schools will benefit students by increasing competition. According to a 2018 Forbes article, an analysis of standardized test scores in major cities during the 2015 – 2016 school year showed that charter schools consistently outperform traditional public schools.
Families who want the best education for their children will be attracted to states that dedicate more funding to charter schools, while states that choose to suppress charters will have to compete.
The budget also includes a proposal to create Education Freedom Scholarships for K‑12 students. According to the same White House budget document, these scholarships would amount to “$5 billion annually in State-designed scholarship programs that could support a range of educational activities such as Career and Technical Education, special education services, and tuition for private school.”
Reason reported that the program provides tax incentives to people who donate to the Education Freedom Scholarships. Through the EFS program, students would have greater school choice and potential donors would be encouraged to invest in students’ success.
Decentralizing the education system can only benefit students, who for too long have been subjected to a nationalized, one-size-fits-all approach to education that caters to the lowest common denominator and props up failing public schools rather than encouraging competition.
Ashley Kaitz is a sophomore studying history. She is the assistant features editor of The Collegian.