(CNSNews.com) – Days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the U.S. Department of Education released a devastating critique of its $7 billion School Improvement Grants (SIG) program.
The now defunct SIG program first began under President George W. Bush and later became a key part of the Obama administration's efforts to improve student achievement at hundreds of the nation’s lowest-performing public schools
“The findings presented in this report do not lend much support for the SIG program having achieved this goal,” the report concluded.
“Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”
Proponents of school choice are pointing to the report as evidence that spending billions of dollars on public education does not guarantee that disadvantaged children will receive a quality education.
“President Obama and his education team inadvertently handed President Trump, education secretary-designee Betsy DeVos and other school choice advocates an enormous parting gift: The now-documented failure of the administration’s massive ‘school turnaround’ program offers a convincing argument for empowering disadvantaged families with more education options – exactly what Trump and DeVos have in mind,” Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, noted in a recent op-ed.
Trump’s education agenda pledges to invest $20 billion in school choice programs by reprioritizing existing education funds, with the goal of “providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school-aged children living in poverty.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) reintroduced a bill that would expand school choice to more than 6.2 million students nationwide who are disabled or come from low-income or military families.
Co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act (S. 235), or CHOICE Act, would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide start-up funds to encourage states with school choice programs to set up programs for disabled students.
It would also create a pilot program at the Defense Department to provide scholarships to children of military families on at least five domestic military bases, and expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program to more low-income families in the nation’s capital.
The bill, which Scott first introduced in 2015, is co-sponsored by Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS).
"I am thankful our nation’s children have champions like Senator Scott,” said Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the pro-school choice Center for Education Reform.
“This legislation is a tremendous start to going bold on education innovation and opportunity and redefining Washington’s role in the First 100 Days" of the Trump administration.
“We are certainly more optimistic than we were under the previous administration of the CHOICE Act’s chances of becoming law,” Scott said.
“Every single student deserves access to a quality education,” he added in a statement. “We must make sure our education system is designed with that one, single concept in mind, and my CHOICE Act will help unlock the potential of students who might otherwise be left behind.
“I look forward to working with soon-to-be-confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on this bill and other issues critical to the future of our children.”
DeVos is a longtime advocate of school choice. “Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning fits the needs of every child,” DeVos told HELP Committee members during her four-hour Senate confirmation hearing on January 17.
But Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) vowed that Democrats in the Senate will do everything in their power to derail DeVos’ nomination.
“She is someone that there’s not going to be one Democratic vote for her and we’re trying to find Republicans who will vote against her because she’s an ideologue who knows next to nothing about education policy,” Franken said on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show.
The nation’s two largest teachers union – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – are both strongly opposed to DeVos, who is expected to be one of Trump’s most bitterly contested Cabinet picks.
But proponents of school choice have rallied around DeVos, including former New Jersey Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler, who said she “was on the right side of history… in the civil rights battle of our generation.”