Canadian families may soon benefit from U.S. education reform
Depending on the outcome of the U.S. elections in November, expanded education choice may become more common in Republican states and likely make inroads in some Democratic states. As with many other significant education movements over the past century, the spirit, if not much of the substance, of these changes may spill over the border and help change Canadian education.
The launchpad for this potential transformation will be a new Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act. The original version has been stalled in the United States Congress for more than a year. However, the election may produce a new congress that will pass some version of the bill into law, which would provide billions to underwrite an annual U.S. federal tax credit for businesses and individuals who voluntarily donate to scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs) providing scholarships to fund a wide range of education choices for students. Individual states will charter SGOs and decide on eligible students, education providers and allowed expenses.
States could use these “Freedom Scholarships” to finance not just private school fees but a wide range of teaching and learning activities including summer and after-school education programs, tutoring by private teachers, fees for advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses, online courses offered by entrepreneurial schools and teachers, specialized programs for students with unique learning needs, remedial services for struggling students, internship and apprenticeship programs, and home education expenses including instructional materials.
These opportunities, combined with the 67 school-choice programs already in place in 31 states, will stimulate new education opportunities for many. To this must be added the June 2020 Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which effectively removed longstanding constitutional provisions in many U.S. states prohibiting the use of tax revenues to fund religious schools, which constitute the overwhelming majority of private schools in the U.S. This will boost enrolments in independently operated schools to add to rising charter school enrolments.
Taken together, the combined effects of the scholarships, existing school-choice programs, and funding opportunities for independent schools will fuel a rapid expansion of established, new and innovative education choice opportunities for families across the socioeconomic spectrum.
Back in Canada, government-aided school choice is available in five provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Saskatchewan) where it takes the form of financial support to schools rather than to families (as in the “Freedom Scholarship” model). Ontario, our largest province, offers no support for school choice whatsoever.
If the choice revolution sketched out above takes place in the U.S., Ontario’s establishment monopoly on schooling may become increasingly untenable and pressure may build in other provinces for more family-oriented, broad-based choice programs and learning networks supported by public funding but delivered through a mix of government-run and independently operated providers. Then, 21st century education will have arrived.