The Trump administration could bring to the fore some education terms that have been largely overlooked in recent years as it moves to dramatically change the way students learn in the United States. And officials and advocacy groups will throw around other words that are commonly heard but not always thoroughly understood. As Congress prepares to decide whether President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is fit for the job, it’s worth reviewing what some of the words and phrases that will be floating around in the coming days and months actually mean:
School choice: Trump and DeVos have repeatedly said they are fans of school choice. It’s a phrase that backers of charter schools (see that definition below) often use to avoid the more contentious “charter” wording. Broadly, proponents of school choice say they want students to be able to attend whatever school they and their families decide is best, whether it’s the traditional public school down the street or a charter across town. Sometimes, people also argue that school choice means parents should be able to use taxpayer dollars to send their kids to private schools, too.
Vouchers: About that public money to pay for private school … That’s where vouchers come in. Vouchers, which Trump and DeVos have both backed and which are opposed by many Democrats, let families use government money to pay for private schools, including, sometimes, religious schools. The Trump administration has talked about creating a national voucher program, which would be unprecedented, but it already exists in various forms in several states. Understanding the variety is important. Some voucher programs are very limited—like the one in Arkansas, which is restricted to students with disabilities. The state lets families with special-needs children use public money to pay for private school, but it requires those schools to be accredited and to administer certain tests. Indiana, where Vice President-elect Mike Pence is from, has a broader voucher system that lets low-income students (in addition to students with disabilities) use public money to pay for private schools. Voucher amounts vary and the way they are distributed isn’t uniform.