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Trump's State of the Union address expected to address school choice

Brittany De Lea

As the nation awaits President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, the president is expected to focus on a topic that has become controversial on Capitol Hill – his plans to expand school choice.

A senior administration official told reporters Tuesday that, while the major focus of the speech will be the U.S. economy, the president will also touch on his administration’s plan to expand K-12 and vocational schooling options.

Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsey DeVos recently spoke about the subject during a rally speech in Wisconsin, pushing the administration’s proposal to give $5 billion worth of annual tax credits to encourage individuals and businesses to donate to nonprofit scholarship funds. Those funds would be used for education opportunities like private schools, apprenticeships and technical training, and certification.

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That proposal, known as the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, would give freedom to states to decide how to set up a program that fits their residents’ needs – including which students would be eligible for scholarships. State participation would be optional, according to a bill introduced by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, supported by DeVos.

“Every student in America deserves to learn in an engaging, meaningful and personalized way,” DeVos said in a statement. “No student should be denied that opportunity simply because of where they live or their family income. Education Freedom Scholarships will make a historic investment in our students and their futures, finally putting the individual needs of students above all else.”

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The proposal, however, is no longer popular among Democrats. Washington Sen. Patty Murray has released multiple statements criticizing the proposal – and DeVos – who she says is pushing it through without even Republican support.

Critics allege the proposal would drive funding away from public schools. Democratic candidates have been vying for support among unions – including the teachers’ union – which has often put their policies in opposition with the Trump administration’s school choice proposal.

However, the policy was once welcome among the left.

As noted in a New York Times article, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has advocated for vouchers and school choice in the past. Former Vice President Joe Biden also voiced support for the policy during his tenure as a senator.

The Trump administration isn’t stopping its push. Pence is expected to host another school choice event on Wednesday.

The main theme of Trump’s address on Tuesday is expected to be the “Great American Comeback,” where he will discuss what he has deemed a “blue-collar boom” in the country.

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