The Trump Administration’s first 100 days have come and gone, and we are beginning to see the outline of his educational policies and their potentially destructive impact on our nation’s schools.
The president and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, are working to increase funds for voucher programs in schools and have made “school choice” a priority. Opponents label this effort as a privatization of public schools and view the use of public funds for private and religious schools as a “dismantling of public education.” Historically, access to public education has been a cornerstone of American democracy. During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to fund a $20 billion school choice program, and as president, he has asked Congress to work with him in extending this effort.
Where will this money come from? The Washington Post reports that official details, which will include $10.6 billion in cuts to the Department of Education and 22 programs on the chopping block, will be released this month. The programs include:
The administration wants to spend $400 million to expand charter schools and promote school vouchers. Washington, DC’s voucher program that allows low- income students to attend private schools using federal funds has received mixed reviews—with one study showing a decrease in math performance for participating students, while another showed increased graduation rates. The Trump Administration is also requesting $1 billion for a new grant program, Funding Options for Children to Unleash Success (FOCUS) to encourage schools to adopt school choice policies.
In April, President Trump signed an executive order requiring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to conduct a review (within 300 days) identifying any regulations in which the federal government has “overstepped its legal authority in K-12 schools.” The Every Child Succeeds Act of 2015 gave states much authority over schools instead of the federal government, and many Republicans believe the federal government should not be involved in public education at all. Others look to school choice as a way for school districts to exercise more control over their schools.
However, even within the school choice movement, there is much dissent on how and where the nation’s children should be educated. One group supporting school choice wants to see funds used to improve traditional public schools. Another group wants to allow tax funds in the form of vouchers used for private schools, including both religious and for-profit schools. Many see the lingering and unsettled issues of school integration and teacher diversity as providing the backdrop for many of these policies.
Secretary DeVos’s poor grasp of these issues was on fully display earlier this month when she delivered the commencement speech at the historically black Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. She described such institutions (which were actually founded in response to racial segregation) as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” Many outraged students turned their backs on her during her speech.
Let’s hope the nation turns its back on this misguided set of policies.
Dianna Washington, PhD, Chair
Education and Children’s Issues Task Force