During the campaign, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to respect state and local control of public education. With his nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. secretary of education, President-elect Trump has tossed that promise aside, saying that she will help him reform the education system based on one idea—privatization.
Truth be told, candidate Trump had earlier signaled that his promise to respect state and local control was fraudulent because he pledged to spend $20 billion on charter schools and tuition vouchers for children to attend private schools. Since DeVos’ work has been to promote those ideas, the federal government will most likely be forcefully changing education regardless of state and local opinion.
For many years, Congress has hotly debated this issue of control, and on a bipartisan basis passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. The law limits the federal government’s power by emphasizing state and local decision-making. President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program were at the root of this debate. Those policies moved the federal government front and center in school reform and precipitated a powerful kickback from many states and local school districts.
President-elect Trump wants to reverse the course of an intrusive federal government dictating to states how to run schools. What will the Republicans who control Congress do with his proposals? Will they stick with their position that state and local school districts should control education? Or, was that only a trick to oppose the outgoing president? Will they be two-faced now that a Republican will be president?
Research shows that school choice has, at best, a mixed record of success. Even President-elect Trump has written: “Look, I know that people both for and against school choice can roll out endless arguments and statistics showing charter schools are either very successful or make no difference at all. This is a legitimate debate.” (Trump knocks rivals, gets literary in New York, Ben Schreckinger, Nov. 3, 2015, Politico)
His proposal, though, would have Washington dictating policies to states without clear evidence of effectiveness. That is DeVos’ record: promoting privatization without solid research showing conclusively that it will work.
The Trump administration should honor the idea of state and local control of education contained in ESSA. The states are busy making their own plans for school improvement, and they deserve time to show what they can do.
More broadly, why do conservatives argue for limited federal involvement unless it is something they want? Will state and local leaders let them get by with that?
Has anyone asked educators and not billionaires what really makes a difference in schooling?
This article written by Jack Jennings first appeared in Education Week on January 18, 2017. His latest book is Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2015).
The source for Mr. Thrump’s quotation was inserted in this article after publication by Education Week.