Donald Trump as president would redirect $20 billion in his first budget proposal to expand school choice for poor children, he said Thursday.
The proposal came as the Republican nominee visited a charter school in Cleveland, seeking to close his polling gap with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the must-win state of Ohio.
The money would establish a block grant for 11 million school-aged children who are poor, and states would have discretion about how to use the money, “but the dollars should follow the student,” according to a campaign statement. The money would “favor” those states with existing charter and school-choice laws, Trump said.
“The parents will be so happy,” he said. “Number 1, we’ll have safe streets; and Number 2, they’ll walk their children to schools they want to be at.”
In an Ohio poll average compiled by RealClearPolitics, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leads Trump by 3.3 percentage points in a two-way race, slightly larger than her national lead. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican who ran against Trump for the nomination, has refused to endorse the billionaire.
Trump has called education a modern civil right, continuing a line Republicans have been using for more than half a decade in an effort to to make inroads with black and Hispanic voters.
For his 2013 re-election, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — the first high-profile Republican to endorse Trump and a top adviser — ran on that platform and school choice. After receiving endorsements from Latino and African-American organizations that backed his calls for vouchers and expanding charter schools, he increased his margins with those groups.
Trump’s share of support among minority voters remains mired in the teens, according to a CNN poll conducted Sept. 1-4. He received 17 percent of non-white likely voters, behind Clinton with 70 percent and ahead of Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney lost the African-American vote to President Barack Obama 6 percent to 93 percent, and the Latino vote 27 percent to 71 percent, according to exit polls published by CNN. Obama won Ohio by about 2 percentage points.
Trump’s campaign said he “will also support merit-pay for teachers, so that great teachers are rewarded instead of the failed tenure system that currently exists.”
The focus on education is a turn for Trump from his recent emphasis on a buildup of the U.S. military and on his strident immigration proposals after his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
He also used the Thursday event to defend himself against criticism for misleading voters about his position on the Iraq war.
Trump’s education policy boils down to two points: local control and ending the multi-state standards known as Common Core. That program, adopted in 42 states and Washington, sets out standards for what students are expected to know at the end of each grade.
While all but two states played a role in developing Common Core, the issue has become a galvanizing one for Republicans who say it’s a federal intrusion into an area that should be controlled by local school boards and administrators.
On higher education, Trump has said he wants to look into “smart financing” for college loans and that an improved jobs landscape under his presidency would help those with student-loan debt.
Trump has attacked Clinton as being bought by teachers’ unions and afraid to try new initiatives to help failing schools. Democrats say Trump’s tax plan would undermine public education funding and have attacked him on the lawsuits surrounding the now-defunct Trump University real-estate program.