There’s one grey man standing in the way of providing educational choice to children in Wisconsin. One. Grey. Man.
Last year alone, seven states established new school choice programs, and 15 expanded their existing programs, according to the advocacy group EdChoice. Several more states may soon follow. School choice takes a variety of forms, but it broadly refers to any system that allows parents to take tax dollars designated for the public education of their child and spend the funds on some other form of schooling.
The most well-known form of school choice is vouchers, which are direct payments sent to families to cover tuition at a private school or other nonpublic alternative. Other systems provide the money to parents through tax credits or deposits in what are known as Education Savings Accounts. There were roughly 600,000 students in the U.S. taking part in school choice programs in the 2020-21 school year, according to EdChoice. One recent analysis found that new laws passed last year could mean an additional 1.6 million students participating in school choice nationwide. Even with its remarkable expansion, school choice still represents a small sliver of the country’s K-12 education system — which includes an estimated 50 million students attending public schools.
While both Democrats and Republicans have promoted alternatives to traditional public schooling, school choice has become increasingly partisan in recent years. Former President Donald Trump called school choice “the civil rights statement of the year,” and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, was a strong proponent. Last year’s expansion of school choice happened almost exclusively in Republican-controlled areas of the country.