School Choice: What it means for Hispanic Families

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the critical role education plays in creating and increasing Hispanic prosperity. It has been a commitment of the Administration and the Secretary for the duration of their tenure in office to empower Hispanic parents with access to information and to quality school choice options, regardless of their zip code.

Hispanics are strongly in favor of school choice.  A recent poll showed that 68 percent support the concept of school choice and of allowing parents to use tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. When asked more specifically about tax credit scholarship programs, 70 percent of Hispanics are in support

Beyond the surveys, Hispanics are demonstrating their support of school choice by taking advantage of educational opportunities whenever available. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, Hispanics made up one third of all charter school students, and over 1 in 10 were enrolled in private schools in 2017.  Of all students in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, 38 percent are Hispanic. In Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, that number is 21 percent and in our nation’s capital, 12 percent of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship participants are Hispanics. In short, Hispanic families not only overwhelmingly want school choice, but when given access, they exercise that choice and their children benefit. As the Wallstreet Journal editorial board observed, about 90 percent of DC Opportunity Scholarship recipients graduate from high school compared to 69 percent of DC public school students.

President Trump and Secretary DeVos agree that Hispanic families as all American families deserve more options now than ever to find the right fit for their children’s education. The President has called on Congress to fully pass the School Choice Now Act, as part of any new COVID-19 relief package. Among other provisions, the School Choice Now Act  will ensure every state can fund K-12 scholarship programs for eligible students, so that students can remain in their schools of choice regardless of economic disruptions, and so that families can have choices should their public schools refuse to provide in-person options.

In addition to the Corona Virus-related emergency appropriations, the bill would establish a permanent, federal tax-credit scholarship program, that would offer federal taxpayers dollar-for-dollar tax credits for any contributions they make to Scholarship-Granting Organizations (SGOs), with the total amount of tax credits capped at $5 billion per year. Since the tax credit encourages new, private donations, it does not hurt public schools or take funds away from their teachers or students.

This issue is so important to the Hispanic community, that the first action the recently appointed President’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity took, was to release a statement calling for educational choice including the option of full-time, safe, in-person learning in response to the COVID-19 crisis. They recognized that the negative academic and economic impacts of the one-size-fits all decisions of many school districts across the nation disproportionately harm Hispanic students.

The future of School Choice looks much brighter after the landmark Supreme Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which held that states could not exclude religious institutions from participating in programs that subsidize private school tuition. In effect, the ruling dealt a severe blow to any  Blaine Amendments remaining in state constitutions across the country as Attorney Erica Smith, who was co-counsel on the case noted, “will allow states across the country to enact educational choice programs that give parents maximum educational options.”  Now more than ever, opportunities for Hispanic parents to choose the education that fits their family values and their children’s academic and social needs are within grasp.