Echoing Bush and Obama, Trump calls education ‘the civil rights issue of our time’ — and asks for a school choice bill

“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” President Donald Trump said Tuesday night.

The line inserted a bit of boilerplate — and bipartisan — education reform-speak into his first address to a joint session of Congress. Former Presidents George W. Bush and President Obama also used the phrase, and it has come to represent the education reform movement that has encompassed policies like expanding charter schools, testing, and school accountability.

Trump attached the idea to a campaign promise: to expand school choice. He called on lawmakers to fund school choice for “disadvantaged youth” to help “millions of African-American and Latino children” choose among public, private, religious, and charter schools.

He implied that those changes, along with a reduction in violence, would turn the tide after the U.S. “ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit and so many other places throughout our land.”

But he offered no more specific ideas for how his choice plan should work — including where the money should come from, a key question as Republican leaders move to trim federal spending.

Here’s the full section of Trump’s speech focused on education, pulled from his prepared remarks. (Look out for a cameo by Denisha Merriweather, who also stood by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this week.)

Our children will grow up in a Nation of miracles. But to achieve this future, we must enrich the mind –- and the souls –- of every American child. Education is the civil rights issue of our time. I am calling upon Members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them. Joining us tonight in the gallery is a remarkable woman, Denisha Merriweather. As a young girl, Denisha struggled in school and failed third grade twice. But then she was able to enroll in a private center for learning, with the help of a tax credit scholarship program. Today, she is the first in her family to graduate, not just from high school, but from college. Later this year she will get her masters degree in social work. We want all children to be able to break the cycle of poverty just like Denisha.