School Choice Gets Mixed Support from Governors’ Offices

By Henry Kronk
November 14, 2018

On November 9th, U.S. President Donald Trump proclaimed that this week (from the 11th through the 17th) would be American Education Week 2018. He took the opportunity to draw awareness to issues such as workforce development programs, school choice, and the role education plays in the American economy.

“Education is a lifelong process of learning and discovery that begins at home,” the proclamation reads. “Parents are a child’s first teacher.  By actively engaging with educators, mentors, coaches, faith leaders, and community members, parents are best equipped to shape their child’s education.  My Administration has worked to empower States and local communities with greater control and flexibility over their schools.  We are also protecting and expanding parents’ access to a wide range of high-quality educational choices, including effective public, charter, magnet, private, parochial, online, and homeschool options.”

The proclamation paid ceremonial lip service to those advocating for school choice, which allows families to reallocate per-student state funding to a school of their choosing. While details can vary, the measure generally allows parents to take their child out of their (potentially under-performing) local district and send them and their share of state funding to public, charter, virtual, or private institutions elsewhere. Virtual charter schools and other online K-12 options tend to benefit from pro-school choice leadership.

An Accounting of Governors’ Positions on School Choice

But decision making for education issues like school choice plays out far more at the state level. In governors’ offices around the U.S., support for the measure is mixed. EdChoice, a non-profit founded by famed economist, libertarian, and champion of school choice Milton Friedman, recently compiled the official positions of the country’s 50 state governors. The summary includes positions of Ron DeSantis (FL) and Brian Kemp (GA). While both were declared winners on election night, the Florida race is currently being recounted and many consider the Georgia race still too close to call.

Between the newly elected and incumbent state leaders, 17 unequivocally support school choice. All of them are Republicans. This group outweighs the 12 governors who are actively opposed to school choice. While this group is primarily comprised of Democrats, one Republican, Idaho Governor Brad Little, actively opposes school choice.

As he told The 74 Million during his campaign, “[a]nytime you do anything that moves the amount of money that’s ready to go into the pool for K-12 spending, I’ve always had an issue with. And some of the voucher proposals I’ve seen are pretty significant.” 

The ‘Unclear’

The majority group of 21 governors are unclear about their stance towards the measure. Of this group, 5 are Democrats. This group includes Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Gavin Newsom (CA). The latter is especially surprising, considering he served as Lieutenant Governor under Jerry Brown for his past two terms. Brown has been a champion of public education. A hallmark of his tenure in office has been to vastly expand California’s community college system among both brick-and-mortar institutions and online offerings. But in a 2017 East Area Progressive Democrat meeting, Newsom said:

“I’m not interested in the stale and raging debate about which side, which camp you’re on – are you with the charter people, are you anti-charter, are you with the teachers, are you anti-teacher. I’ve been hearing that damn debate for ten damn years. With all due respect, I got four kids. I have an eight year old, second grade. I have a five, three and a one year old. I’m not gonna wait around until they’ve all graduated to resolve whether Eli Broad was right or whether or not the CTA was wrong. I’m not interested in that debate. I’m interested in shaping a different conversation around a 21st century education system that brings people together, that could shape public opinion, not just here in the state, but could shape an agenda more broadly across the country, particularly in a time of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump. We need that kind of leadership.” 

While the executive branch of the U.S. government can only do so much for local education policy, governors’ offices remain firmly mixed on their support of school choice, school alternatives, and online options.

Featured Image: William Felker, Unsplash.