Kevin Glass: The next battlegrounds for school choice: stubborn red states

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The sweeping successes of Republicans nationwide in the 2016 elections presents a huge opportunity for the school choice movement. Republicans have historically been more friendly to school choice than Democrats, and they now have 33 governorships and full control of 32 state legislatures.

Unfortunately, Republican control doesn’t always equal the best outcomes for students. In places like Texas and Mississippi, hundreds of thousands of students sit on waitlists for choice programs despite Republican control in both of those states.

“Mississippi is a little late to the school choice dance,” education activist Kevin Chavrous said, according to Mississippi Watchdog. The state has a choice program, but that “only a small percentage of Mississippi students are able to take advantage, and opportunities need to be expanded.” Reformers there are working with legislators.

Watchdog Texas reported that the state “remains a laggard” in this important area, and that the Republican speaker of the house has been an opponent of expansion of school choice programs. The status quo policies are what keep a reported 120,000 students on waitlists to get out of failing public schools.

At the very least, education reformers may soon have less opposition from the federal level to their reform efforts. President Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has been a supporter of choice programs across the country, from charters to education savings accounts to opportunity scholarships. The federal government does not and should not have power over state and local education authorities when it comes to school choice, but it’s still comforting to know that the Department of Education won’t be getting in the way.

It’ll be a welcome change from the previous administration, which frequently paired noble goals with questionable tactics. The Obama Department of Education’s school choice policy was frequently paired with strings attached that made many of them unsustainable. The capacity for choice programs has increased in the last few years, but not by nearly enough to keep up with the incredible demand.

And, hopefully, a Republican administration will be able to stop the shameful shuttering of choice programs that occurred during the Obama administration.

Parents want more choice, as evidenced by the near-record waitlists for choice programs around the country. While there has been progress made in freeing parents and students from ZIP code determinism in recent years, a lot of progress still remains, as evidenced by Texas and Mississippi. A new year after a big election, however, means that opportunities exist nationwide.

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Kevin Glass is director of outreach and policy at The Franklin Center and was previously managing editor at Townhall.

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