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How Could Trump Impact California Schools? A Cheat Sheet

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses the department staff at the Department of Education on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.
Associated Press
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses the department staff at the Department of Education on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.

This story is part of our series “Trump Ed,” exploring how President Trump’s proposed federal education policies could impact California schools. The series was produced in collaboration with reporters from KQED, KPBS, KPCC and CALmatters.

Trump has pledged to expand ‘school choice.’ Do most California families have access to school choice now?

California offers “school choice” options in the form of charter schools, magnet schools and open enrollment policies. Of these options, the majority of California families opt for charter schools, which are public schools that operate independently from school districts, giving them greater flexibility when it comes to hiring and curriculum.


California has the most charter schools and charter school students in the United States — and that number is expected to grow if President Trump’s federal education spending plan is approved by Congress.

Trump wants to boost the federal charter school grant program — currently funded at $333 million — by an additional $168 million. These grants allow state and charter organizations to start new charters and expand existing ones.

Some charter school advocates in California welcome that support, while others worry Trump’s support of charters — backed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — might prove toxic and end up bolstering local opposition to charter schools.

Will Trump give California public schools more money? Or take funding away?

Trump wants to do both.


The president’s proposed 2017-18 budget calls for a historic $1.4 billion federal investment in school choice, including new money for private school vouchers and charter schools, as well as directing $1 billion to follow students to the school of their choice.

That infusion of school choice cash is far smaller than the $20 billion investment he proposed on the campaign trail, but it still represents a big shift in federal priorities.

At the same time, he’s proposing to slash federal funding for long-established after school programs, early learning initiatives and teacher preparation and retention.

Because California is one of the largest states with the most public school students, Trump’s plan would result in a loss of hundreds of millions of federal dollars.

Trump also doesn’t plan to increase funding for special education programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Special education advocates have been pushing for more federal support because special education programs are costly, forcing state and school districts to make up the difference.

Some local teachers unions say Trump wants to ‘privatize’ public schools. What does that mean? Will he do it?

President Trump has made it clear he wants to create a private school choice program at the federal level, which would offer American families alternatives if they don’t want to send their children to local public schools.

California’s Constitution prohibits private school choice programs. However, more than a dozen other states do support them — the most popular programs being school vouchers and tax credit scholarships.

As such, these are the two options Trump wants to make the centerpiece of his education agenda, which is outlined in his proposed 2017-18 budget. But restructuring the country’s public school system to allow for more private school choice is likely to face legal challenges and hurdles from Democratic-controlled states.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she will not impose a federal school choice program on states, which leaves many unanswered questions.

What’s the difference between a school voucher and a tax credit scholarship?

School vouchers are publicly funded coupons set aside by a state.

Qualifying families can use vouchers to pay for the private school of their choice, whether it’s a parochial or independent school. But critics point out vouchers may not cover the full cost of tuition, leaving many low-income families in a precarious position from year to year.

Critics also say vouchers rob public schools of state funding, making it difficult for them to improve the quality of education.

Tax credit scholarships on the other hand are funded through individuals and businesses who donate to nonprofits specializing in these grants. In return, those individuals and businesses get tax breaks.

Families must apply for tax credit scholarships, which can only be used at private schools that accept them.

Critics say — much like vouchers — tax credit scholarships don’t always cover the full cost of tuition, and the most disadvantaged families are often competing with middle class families to secure the grants.

Additionally, private schools don’t have to adhere to the same kind of accountability rules that public schools must follow — and private schools can also be selective in who they admit.

So even if a family has secured a tax-credit scholarship, their child isn’t guaranteed a seat in class.

Can I start exploring private schools in California as an option for my child?

California — along with 35 other states — adheres to what’s called the Blaine Amendment, a statute written into the state Constitution which sets strict limits on public dollars going to religious causes, i.e. parochial school tuition, in this instance.

As a result, the Golden State prohibits the use of tax credit scholarships or school vouchers, so families cannot leverage these options in looking for private school alternatives.

State lawmakers could adopt another statute which would override the Blaine amendment — but that’s not likely to happen in deep-blue California which is a strong defender of its public school system.

Of course, all that could change if Trump imposes a private school choice program on states.

A recent public opinion poll found more Californians are interested in the idea of school vouchers, with roughly 60 percent of residents liking the concept.

How Could Trump Impact California Schools? A Cheat Sheet
How Could Trump Impact California Schools? A Cheat Sheet GUEST:Ana Tintocalis, education reporter, KQED

In U.S. education Secretary Betsy Devos has recently been received with booze and some of the schools she dash -- boos and part of this is because she is privatizing the education system. We will get reports on what impacts state schools. Joining us with a preview of the series is our education reporter. Welcome. Our state public schools preparing for a slight change or a seismic shift from Trump Administration policies? They are definitely gearing up for something quite different. I would not say they are panicking just yet because the Trump Administration outside of laying out how much they want to spend on school choice programs, they have not really released any other details. But the internal state education policymakers and experts are worried that he will introduce something or impose something on the state which would really complicate matters on our and and that the state is moving forward with its own school accountability system which is drastically different in terms of how it is going to measure school success, how it finds the schools and even standards within the schools, what teachers are teaching right now. You explore a tax credit option that might work to push a national voucher system. While California educators are not panicking just yet, they are definitely hearing what is coming down. One of the big shifts would be this idea of a tax credit scholarship. It sounds wonky. But essentially, it is a scholarship made up of private donations. Individuals and businesses donate to nonprofit to specialize in handing out the scholarships. And in return the individuals and businesses get sizable tax breaks. So families can apply for the scholarships and then use them at certain private schools. And a lot of critics say this is really like a workaround to school vouchers, which get mired in legal challenges because they use specifically taxpayer funding. But the thing with the tax credit scholarship that many say are controversial is that they essentially do the same thing as vouchers in that they take students and draw resources away from local public schools and you're here also critics say that is why they are dismantling public schools and privatizing things. But also the scholarships don't necessarily cover the full amount of tuition at private schools, they don't necessarily get to the students who need them the most. And then there is the question of whether these private schools are high-quality private schools, not all of them are really great independent schools. One another as dash -- what other aspects do you examine quick We will be taking a laserlike approach to what tax credit scholarships are and because they do not exist in California, we are jumping to Nevada to take an up close look at a family receiving that and their personal decision to do that. Then we will head to San Diego where we find out this tale of two San Diego independent schools, one that is really well often caters to affluent families and may not want to take school vouchers, and then one that is really struggling and has lost a lot of students and would be open to taking vouchers. And then we take a look at charter schools in Los Angeles because in California one of the main forms a school choice is the creation of charter schools. But interestingly, a lot of charter schools are distancing themselves from the Trump Administration and Betsy Devos because in deep blue California can be politically harmful. And then we do take a look at higher education. And because there's been stepped-up deportation and rhetoric around immigration, we were curious as to how that is impacting foreign college students and whether or not they are looking at California public universities as a place to establish their college career. That series of reports continues all week long. The Trump education series begins tomorrow here on KPBS. I have been speaking with her education reporter. Thank you.