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Every Student Succeeds Act

Education Under Trump: Who Will Ride Shotgun, and Who Will Get Locked Out?

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 22, 2016 10 min read
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By Alyson Klein and Andrew Ujifusa

President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t picked an education secretary yet, and he didn’t talk a great deal about schools on the campaign trail. But his triumph in the election already has radically altered the prospects for various K-12 groups in the next several years, both inside Washington and out.

So with the dust still settling after the Nov. 8 results, who looks set to prosper under the Trump presidency, and who’s going to be tempted to put on sackcloth and ashes for a while? We’ve provided a list below—let us know if you think any group is missing or miscategorized.

Teacher’s Pets

The American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation: Two of the bigger and more influential right-leaning think tanks in Washington when it comes to public school policy, AEI and Heritage look well-positioned to serve as an external brain trust for a Trump Education Department (assuming there is one). They are big fans of school choice, the one public school policy area where Trump has discussed details of what he’d like to do, and are consistently skeptical of the federal government’s role in education. And AEI’s Gerard Robinson has also, separate from his role with the organization, served as a Trump transition team adviser on education.

That’s not to say everyone at those two organizations has professed unyielding support for Trump on K-12. Andy Smarick, the president of the Maryland state school board who recently joined AEI, highlighted Trump’s inattention to policy earlier this year. And his AEI colleague Nat Malkus said in an interview before the election that entrusting Trump with education policy was like “giving a teenager a 12-pack and the keys to your car.”

Other Beltway groups that could do well include the American Principles Project, which has vigorously opposed the Common Core State Standards (more on that below), and the Cato Institute.

School Choice Advocates: This includes AEI and Heritage, but also the constellation of groups that support charter schools, vouchers, and education savings accounts around the country. Think of the American Federation for Children and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, as well as more state-specific groups like the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, as examples.

Many charter school advocates will look to advance their cause under Trump. However, those that support charters but not vouchers and ESAs might have a more complicated outlook depending on what happens. In fact, some Democrats who back school choice are very nervous about the prospect about one of their own working in a Trump administration.

Hoosiers: Let’s start with the fact that not only will Indiana Gov. Mike Pence serve as vice president, but he could become Trump’s point man for education policy.

Then there’s GOP Rep. Luke Messer, whose proposal last year to make Title I funds for disadvantaged children “portable” to public and private schools could be revived in

some form by Trump. Messer said recently he’d be honored to serve as Trump’s education secretary, although he added he hasn’t been contacted about the position yet. Former Indiana superintendent Tony Bennett has also come up in discussions about possible Education Department leaders in a Trump administration.

And don’t forget that GOP Rep. Todd Rokita, also of Indiana, is on the House education committee—he currently leads that panel’s K-12 subcommittee.

States Ready to Push the ESSA Envelope: Peer reviewers picked by the Education Department are slated to review state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act starting in March 2017.

It seems unlikely that peer reviewers picked by a Trump administration would be particularly prescriptive or heavy-handed when it comes to these plans, compared to how a Hillary Clinton administration might have handled the situation. That’s for several reasons, including the fact that GOP leaders in Congress want to see states (and districts) given lots of freedom when it comes to handling issues like school turnarounds and identifying underperforming subgroups of students.

Enemies of the Common Core: A Trump administration can’t get rid of the Common Core State Standards unless it signs a bill banning them outright. Absent that, the administration will be handcuffed when it comes to getting states to drop the standards, thanks to ESSA. And the majority of the states that originally adopted the standards have kept them.

However, common-core foes will certainly be pleased any time Trump or his education secretary uses the megaphone of the presidency to blast the standards. And it’s possible that such a push against the standards could cause some states on their own to reconsider their use of the common core.

People Who Hate the Obama Administration’s Draft ESSA Regulations: A variety of groups have come out against the proposed rules for accountability and the requirement for federal money to supplement state and local school spending. However, the latter has probably attracted more, and more vociferous, critics. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the leader of the Senate education committee, had encouraged lawsuits against the Obama administration over its approach to ESSA before Trump’s victory.

And what is Alexander saying now about the Obama draft regulations?

Stuck in Detention

Teachers’ Unions: The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have had a tough row to hoe for almost two decades. First, they tangled with the administration of GOP President George W. Bush on things like standardized testing. Then, they had to fight the Democrats when President Barack Obama pushed through policies, like teacher evaluation through test scores, that the unions really, really didn’t like.

Recently though, things were finally looking up. The unions had successfully worked with Republicans to enact the Every Student Succeeds Act, which seeks to scale back the federal role in accountability. And they endorsed the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, early on in her competitive primary, earning themselves a prime seat at her policymaking table. The AFT and NEA poured millions of dollars and hours and hours of manpower into trying to send Clinton to the White House, and came up short. Now, instead of new money for priorities like early-childhood education and school construction, they’re stuck having to fight school vouchers and try to keep Congress from cutting education funding. And they aren’t likely to have the ear of the White House.

Maybe even worse than all that for the unions? Trump will get to appoint a Supreme Court justice to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. That new, likely conservative judge, could be on the bench if and when the court decides to revisit the issue of whether unions can collect mandatory service fees from nonmembers. The question was temporarily settled in the unions’ favor earlier this year when the justices split 4-4, failing to overturn a lower court’s decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, but it could resurface now. Losing the ability to collect those fees in 25 states and the District of Columbia could mean a major decrease in revenue for the unions.

There’s one silver lining in the unions’ dark cloud: The new administration is almost certain to toss or tweak regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act that NEA and AFT didn’t like.

Civil Rights Groups: These groups had a friend in Obama and Education Secretary John B. King Jr., who made equity the centerpiece of his agenda. Now they’re facing a president who got elected despite rhetoric and policy proposals deeply offensive to many blacks, Latinos, Muslims, those with disabilities, and others. Civil rights groups could face a huge battle on immigration. And on education, the incoming Trump administration could rein in the Education Department’s office for civil rights, which seeks to blow the whistle on school districts that aren’t meeting the needs of English-language learners, students in special education, and other historically overlooked groups of students. What’s more, some fear Trump and Company may not put the pedal to the metal when it comes to enforcing the parts of ESSA that the civil rights community fought hard for, including protections for subgroups of students.

Democratic Education “Reformers": Groups pushing for a particular basket of what they call “reform” strategies had a great run through the first six years of the Obama administration. The education secretary, Arne Duncan, loved to challenge the K-12 status quo. He used unprecedented sums of federal money to push ideas like teacher evaluation through student outcomes, dramatic school turnarounds, changes to teacher preparation, and more. Then, of course, there was a huge backlash

, and these groups found many of their favorite priorities scaled back, or totally tossed in ESSA. Behind the scenes, in the run up to the election, many were wary that an incoming Clinton administration would be far more sympathetic to teachers’ unions than to their cause. Still, they would have had some influence with her administration, and it’s not clear how much Trump will listen to them. Adding insult to injury: Two ballot measures such groups loved went down to defeat on Election Night, including a push to lift the charter cap in Massachusetts and an effort to create a state-run school turnaround district in Georgia. One consolation for these folks: Most Democratic “reformers” support charters. So does Trump.

The Center for American Progress: The think tank, which does a lot of work on education, was incredibly influential during the Obama administration and was poised provide an incoming Clinton administration with legions of staff and reams of policy proposals. Now more of its energy may be directed at pointing out the pitfalls in Trump’s education ideas, or coming up with proposals for congressional Democrats, who don’t have control of either chamber of Congress right now. That doesn’t sound nearly as satisfying as helping to lay out an education roadmap for a new president. One bright spot: CAP can still seek to support state education agencies or school districts as they roll out ESSA.

Education Department Employees: These folks spent months setting up (and sitting through) negotiated rulemakings, crafting regulations for ESSA, and sifting through more than 20,000 public comments on a proposed accountability regulation alone. Now all that work may go up in smoke, if Trump and Company withdraw some or all of the Obama administration’s regulatory proposals, as most folks expect. What’s more, Trump has said he wants to downsize or even scrap the department. Even though it would be very, very hard to get rid of the department and most of its programs, it can’t be the most fun talking point to hear if you work at 400 Maryland Ave. At a minimum, the agency probably can’t expect mega-spending increases or tons of new hires under Trump. Speaking of which ...

Education Funding Advocates: For years, these groups have been trying to stave off cuts to education and other domestic programs. And now that’s going to be a lot harder, particularly for folks advocating for smaller programs. Now that the same party is in control of both chambers, Congress may actually come up with a budget deal to get rid of across-the-board cuts to military and domestic programs. And domestic programs are likely to end up on the losing side of that equation. Programs closely associated with the Obama administration, like the Education Innovation and Research Fund, the successor to Investing in Innovation, could be first to the chopping block. One (maybe) bright spot: funding for special education and Impact Aid, something Republicans can usually get behind.

Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia: Scott, an ESSA architect, was at the top of the list to replace Clinton’s running mate,

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., in the Senate if he had become vice-president. Now, he’ll be returning as the top Democrat on the House education committee. Scott was able make his mark on ESSA, and was a driving force behind protections for subgroups of students added to the law in conference. But with a Republican now in the White House, he’s likely to have less influence next year.


Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.

Photos from top: President-elect Donald Trump, right, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence; Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind.


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