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Donald Trump Is About to Give His First Address as President; Will K-12 Come Up?

By Alyson Klein — January 20, 2017 3 min read
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Donald Trump will address the nation Friday, right after taking the oath of office as president. So will he talk about education? And does it matter if he does?

I asked three experts in education and political science, from a range of perspectives. They essentially all said the same thing: Don’t bet your latte money on a lot of talk about K-12.

Jay Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, said he also doesn’t expect to hear much about K-12 Friday. But that doesn’t really say much, one way or the other, about what education will look like over the next four years.

“I strongly doubt that Trump will make any mention of education,” Greene said. “My general perspective on this is that the federal government is not that important when it comes to education policy. That has to be enforced and implemented by states and localities.” Most of the money that the feds spend on K-12 flows by formula, Greene added. And he doesn’t see those laws changing anytime soon.

For the most part, a Trump administration and Trump’s pick of Betsy DeVos to be education secretary will not have a dramatic effect on the average student’s education in any way, he said.

And Pat McGuinn, a professor at Drew University, who studies the intersection of education politics, doesn’t expect Trump to say much about K-12, in part because of the rocky performance of his education secretary pick, DeVos at her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

“I don’t think we’ll hear too much about education in his inaugural speech--both because i don’t think the issue is that much of a priority in his agenda and because after Devos’ poor showing at the confirmation hearing the other day, he may not want to draw attention to the issue or his nominee,” McGuinn said in an email.

Jeff Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, agreed, but he added, you never know with Trump.

“I don’t think anyone knows what to expect,” he said. “If this was a more conventional president [with policy ideas similar to Trump’s] it might be reasonable to expect some mention of education, linked to some broad notion of [school] choice but wrapped in a bow that plays up this as a unifying issue for American families. But this isn’t a conventional president or a conventional inauguration.”

Women’s March

Trump’s inauguration won’t be the only big event on the Mall in Washington this week. There are plenty of teachers making the trip for the Women’s March on Washington, an event on Saturday to protest Trump’s agenda. At least 1,000 members of the National Education Association will be in town, for example.

Missy Rhodes, a 3rd-grade teacher at Hayshire Elementary School in York, Pa., will be getting on a bus at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday to make the two-hour trip to Washington. Back in the fall, Rhodes went door-to-door in her small southern Pennsylvania city, registering voters and doing other get-out-the-vote work to help elect Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Rhodes liked a lot of Clinton’s ideas, but one of her biggest motivations was the fear of what a Trump presidency would mean for schools, especially those that serve a lot of poor kids and immigrants.

Three months later, her opinion of the real estate mogul hasn’t changed much. She called Trump’s nomination of DeVos “absurd” and said she was particularly baffled by her comment during her confirmation hearing that remote rural schools might need guns to protect themselves from grizzly bears.

“She knows nothing about what a public school is like,” Rhodes said.

But other teachers feel differently. Benjamin Coates, who teaches kindergarten in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, thinks Trump chose a great leader for the Education Department. Coates used to teach at a charter and is heartened that DeVos will support those schools and give the system a much needed shake-up.

“Many low-income schools have been failing for so long. We definitely need change,” he said.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Tampa Convention Center in downtown Tampa, Fla. last June. (Loren Elliott (/The Tampa Bay Times via AP)

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