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Trump, DeVos Exemplary “Choice”? A Selective Religious School Whose Students are Funded Through “Tax Credit Scholarships”

March 4, 2017

Following his State of the Union speech where he singled out a graduate of a religious high school in Florida with a heartwarming rags-to-riches story, President Trump and Secretary of Education DeVos visited that school earlier this week. Here’s a brief description of that visit from the NYTimes: 

At the school on Friday, Mr. Trump stopped in on a fourth-grade classroom where the teacher, Jane Jones, was giving a lesson about the state of Florida. The vocabulary list on the wall included definitions for “Government. US Constitution. Limit. President. Governor. Naturalization.”

“Who are we?” Latrina Peters-Gipson, the school’s principal, asked after Mr. Trump entered the room.

“We are scholars,” the students responded.

“What are our goals? Where are we going?” Ms. Peters-Gipson asked.

College and heaven,” they said in unison.

The president posed for pictures with two of the young children, telling them, “Come on, kids. We’re going to make you famous.” As he left the classroom, he complimented two of the African-American girls.

Oh, that hair is beautiful. I love that hair, right?” the president said.

The school was singled out because it has been successful educating minority students who qualify for entry and whose parents can afford to supplement the tuition that is paid in large measure through a Tax Credit scholarship, as described below:

Hundreds of low-income students, many of them African-Americans, attend the private religious school thanks to tuition assistance from the Florida Tax Credit scholarship program. Critics say it diverts money that would otherwise go to the state’s public school system.

Tuition at the school, just outside Orlando, is normally $6,260 per year, according to the school’s website. The Florida scholarship program allows businesses in the state to receive tax credits for donating to nonprofit scholarship organizations that give tuition assistance for students to attend schools like St. Andrew. The families’ portion of the tuition bill varies.

The program’s goals, according to the website, are to “expand education opportunities for children from families that have limited financial resources; and to enable children to achieve a greater level of excellence in their education.”

This is a win-win for pro-business, pro-voucher, anti-“Government school” legislators. Because the diversion of funds is indirect, the “scholarship” dollars are not allocated by the legislature and can, therefore, be used for sectarian schools. Moreover, the impact on public education is analogous to the impact of agreements between the government and businesses like “payments in lieu of taxes”, whereby the tax base in decreased shifting more of a burden for funding bona fide public schools onto property taxpayers. Finally, because this is so convoluted-yet-somehow- common-sensical, public school advocates have difficulty explaining exactly HOW the diversion of public funds is taking place and making a case that this breeches the wall between church and state.

When the businessmen who want to pay lower taxes for public education meet with the legislators and are asked “What are your goals? Where are you going?” Their answer is not “College and heaven”… it’s “profits and more profits”…


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