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Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Trump Vision for Education in America

Education is one of the Trump campaigns important positions

Until November 9, 2016, I never imagined there would be any reason to consider what Donald Trump had in mind for education in the USA. I was surprised to see that “Education” was one of sixteen important “positions” on the Trump campaign web site which has now been dismantled in favour of  https://www.donaldjtrump.com (This post is updated from my original comments on November 10, 2016.)

The Trump plan has only one theme:  choice

The Trump vision for education has one theme:  “choice.”  I have to admit I find “choice” to be a very appealing notion in education, in particular, because it necessarily implies variety. (Singular, silver-bullet solutions in education seem to inevitably produce more problems than solutions. See "Everything Works!") In the Trump plan “choice” means “public or private schools,” “magnet schools and charter schools.”

What does "choice" mean in practice?

Each of these varieties of education carries its own particular baggage and connotation.  After he had spent three torturous and tedious years at a public high school which enjoyed an ambience somewhere between a gulag and maximum security prison, my son finally agreed to transfer to a private school.  Private schools are incredibly expensive, but the best money I’ve ever spent on anything.  Short version, private schools = big money. “Magnet schools” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnet_school) are associated with the early days of desegregation and “busing”; meaning inner-city Afro-American kids being bused long distances out to the suburbs—a situation no-body liked apparently. Anyone with any inking about “charter schools” can predict exactly where the Trump plan is heading—the defunding and dismantling of public education.  When I googled “charter schools,” three of the first four hits to come up were ads for the CSUSA Corporation:  http://www.charterschoolsusa.com



K-12 education modeled on Trump University

The Trump vision is to turn K-12 education over to the for-profit business sector.  In other words, kindergartens, grade schools and high schools in the USA will become versions of the now-defunct Trump University which, post-election,was still on trial for defrauding students. The campaign web site provides a talking-points road map for how to get to for-profit education.

Are CEOs of charter school corporations about to get $20 billion richer?

Step one, sentence one, of the “Trump Vision”:  “Immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice.” Kinda sounds good, if you don’t actually read the words.  The promise is not to add “$20 billion” to education, the money is going to “school choice” which sort of sounds like the money is going to end up in the pockets of the CEOs of the aforementioned corporations.

Is the plan to add $20 billion or cut $20 billion from education?

Where is the money coming from you might ask? Sentence two:  “This will be done by reprioritizing existing federal dollars.”  If you are familiar with how to read political bureaucratise, you will know to translate this sentence as “No-one knows”  or, more to the point, "We're not saying." Unfortunately, the most logical possibility, is that the money will come out of existing education budgets.  Just in case you thought, as I did on first reading, that Trump would add $20 billion to the education budget, he is most likely (though no-one knows for sure) promising to cut $20 billion from public education.

$24 billion cut from education for the poor and disabled?

On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to argue with Trump’s vision and his plan to “Establish the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school aged [sic: school-aged] children living in poverty.”  Before we get too excited about Trump’s “vision” we should note that this is a rehash of a Republican plan presented in January, 2014.
Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), a former education secretary, and Tim Scott (S.C.), one of only two African Americans in the Senate, will propose far-reaching “choice” legislation on Tuesday that would take the $24 billion in federal money spent annually to help educate 11 million students in poverty or with disabilities and convert it into block grants to the states, among other changes. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/gop-measure-would-promote-school-choice-with-federal-funding/2014/01/27/7fd52e7e-8778-11e3-a5bd-844629433ba3_story.html
Oh, oh!  Could Trump’s reprioritized, “additional $20 billion,” actually be the money now being spent on the poor and the disabled?

Defunding and dismantling of public education--by the numbers

In case my description of the Trump plan as “defunding and dismantling of public education” sounds hyperbolic, consider the numbers.  The Trump plan calls upon the states to surrender “$110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice.”  The total budget for K-12 education in the USA now is $620 billion.  Trump is proposing that roughly 18% of the public schools’ budgets be cut.  If you think public schools in the USA are struggling now, imagine what they will look like after losing close to one dollar in every five of their funding. At the same time we will see see the proliferation of  American kindergartens, grade schools and high schools modelled on Trump University. 

Should Canadians care about the decline of education in the USA?

Should we in Canada care?  I’m not sure.  Unless of course, somewhere down the line we are told, in the process of renegotiating NAFTA, that funding a public education system gives us an unfair trade advantage, and we will have to stop it if we want to do business with our American neighbours.

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  1. I think Canadians will have to get used to triaging our worries about the U.S.A. and what their new President will do. We'll no doubt prioritize the things that impact us most directly: trade, immigration, industry/resources, etc. But in a country where class unrest appears to be on the rise, and students in public schools can least afford to see their funding shrink, the potential for kids being left behind should be a concern to anyone who cares about young people, in general--be they yours, mine, or ours. Great post, as usual.

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