Vail Daily column: President Trump on education
November 15, 2016
The ballots have been counted and this election season is mercifully behind us. President-elect Donald Trump defied the odds and captured a majority of the electoral votes and the presidency. As we settle into the reality of a Trump administration (and a Republican-controlled Congress), we can now look ahead and make some predictions about what to expect over the next four years in terms of education policy.
This exercise is no easy feat and requires some leaps of faith. Education was not a major policy issue during the campaign; however, we can link together pieces of statements and campaign documents in order to portend what may come from this administration and Congress. We can also look into the backgrounds and positions of those advising President-elect Trump, who may have significant influence within this administration.
A central feature of Trump's approach seems to be some form of devolution when it comes to power. The Republican Party is no stranger to this concept, which focuses on efforts to turn decisionmaking back to the state and local levels and to curb or eliminate federal authority. Trump has spoken of scaling back or even eliminating the U.S. Department of Education and, given the Obama administration's recent tangles with Congress over what many perceive as federal overreach when it comes to education regulations, we should expect federal education authority to get a significant haircut (or buzzcut) in the next few years.
Trump (and the Congressional Republicans) heavily favor school choice models, including the proliferation of charter schools and so-called "voucher" programs which provide a credit for families to send their students to private schools. Colorado has numerous school choice elements including school choice between and even within districts, as well as a robust assortment of charter school options in the state. However, the voucher discussion has (so far) been a bridge Colorado has been unwilling to cross and recent state Supreme Court rulings seem to indicate it is illegal under our state constitution.
Trump's approach to expanding school choice may be based on the extension of massively funded "block grants" to states. Using these grants, the federal government might offer significant incentives (the gigantic number of $20 billion was tossed around during the campaign) in order for states to change their policy frameworks to expand school choice. The flipside of this equation would mean that those states who refuse to expand school choice would effectively be sending their federal tax dollars to private schools in other states.
Details are still scarce at this point, but we should expect some kind of major school choice policy to emerge from this administration and Congress. What strings and conditions are included, as well as how Colorado might respond to this, remains to be seen.
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Trump also has discussed dismantling the Common Core, an internationally-benchmarked set of academic standards in English language arts and math. Common Core has been adopted by 40 states and is a frequent punching bag by those on the extreme right and left. Trump's statements and position on the Common Core may simply be campaign hot air and a fundamental misunderstanding, instead of a policy position for his administration.
It's important to note that the Common Core was not a federal initiative. The Council of Chief State School Officers (the top education leaders in each state) designed it along with the National Governors Association. While there were some federal incentives tied to adopting the Common Core, there was no federal requirement for state adoption.
Now, numerous states have curriculum, testing, and accountability systems built on these standards. Blowing all this up would be incredibly disruptive and it is likely that whatever standards were designed to replace these would end up looking a lot like the Common Core.
The main point of tension the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress will need to navigate is the balance of wanting to limit and scale back the size and scope of the federal government, while at the same time wanting to get massively involved in pushing school choice and state academic standards and measures.
On the one hand, Trump and the Republicans seem to be saying the federal government will have a smaller footprint in education. On the other, they seem to be saying they want to make a big splash in altering school choice policies and reversing academic standards systems in states.
It will be interesting to see how Trump and the Republican Congress square that circle.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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