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The week in school choice: New opportunities

It’s National School Choice Week, and everyone’s celebrating — including 1.6 million Floridians.

Yet the politics of school choice are getting weird. A Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos spawned countless memes, talk of fake gaffes and questions about her grasp of education policy details. Democrats like Al Franken and Maggie Hassan backed charters while panning vouchers. A committee vote’s been delayed one week and Democrats have formally asked for more question time. Some of her policy positions remain unclear, but some observers think her opponents were more interested in political theater than getting substantive answers. Opposition to her nomination may be intensifying among the usual suspects, but key Republicans remain on board. Are Democrats waging a foolish crusade against her? Some progressive education reformers express consternation about collaboration with President Trump’s administration. Other reformers argue it’s time to seize new opportunities.

The DeVos take you might not have read, but definitely should: The African-American roots of Betsy DeVos’ education platform.

Conservatives say they won’t abandon their federalist principles to promote school choice. DeVos says she doesn’t want to force vouchers on unwilling states. Rep. Luke Messer says congressional Republicans don’t, either.

In other words, for all the national political noise, the school choice movement’s biggest fights will still be at the state level.

Speaking of which … how about some good news?

For the first time in nearly 30 months, the nation’s largest private school choice program — one of DeVos’ favorites — is no longer under legal threat. Parents are overjoyed. And now, a similar policy may be in the works at the federal level.

Still speaking of which … big things are brewing in Nebraska. And universal tax credit scholarships are in the works in Arkansas.


What if everything you believe about education is wrong? (At least some things probably are.)

What happens when a school district can no longer run its own schools?

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard from Denisha Merriweather before. But you may not have heard her like this.

During his inaugural address, Donald Trump painted a bleak picture of American public education. Perhaps that’s just because he paints a bleak picture of everything.

Obama’s education legacy echoes the rest of his presidency: “Accomplished but polarizing.” He pioneered a progressive education agenda that eschewed teachers unions. He made it safe for liberal politicians to back reform. He showed what’s possible when leaders challenge their political allies.

Flashback: The case that Obama’s education agenda “disappointed in practice.”

The former president’s agenda may have been shaped by a rare opportunity he once received.

In America’s history, there has been no president whose K–12 experience mattered more than Obama’s. Implicit in his ability to seemingly transcend race and ideology was not only his exposure to Columbia University and Harvard Law School but his attendance at the prestigious Punahou School—a private, diverse, college prep school in Honolulu, Hawaii. A school he attended on a scholarship without regard for the ZIP code in which he lived.

Unregulated school choice can increase segregation. With means-tested vouchers, it’s a different story.

Under school-choice programs in Louisiana and Washington, D.C., minority students do tend to end up in more integrated classrooms, says Patrick Wolf, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas. In a study published in 2014, he found that Louisiana’s scholarship program resulted in less racial segregation in public schools from which students transferred and, to a lesser extent, in the private schools where they enrolled. This included 34 districts under federal desegregation orders.

The conflicting values that drive Nevada’s ESA debate.

The Obama administration spent billions to turn around existing schools. The results are not encouraging.

The results of charter school reform in Ohio may be more encouraging.

How school choice works in rural areas.

Quote of the Week

I can tell you this is a vital case for all people of faith in Missouri. Blaine Amendments cannot be allowed to trump the First Amendment.

– Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, on a U.S. Supreme Court case that could have implications for religious freedom and school choice.

Tweets of the Week

The Week in School Choice is our weekly compendium of news and notes from around the country. Sign up here to get it in your inbox, and send links, tips, pushback or feedback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org.


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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)

One Comment

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