Every Student Succeeds Act

How Have Obama’s K-12 Policies Fared Under Trump?

From transgender guidance to preschool grants
By Andrew Ujifusa — June 19, 2018 | Updated: August 08, 2018 | Corrected: June 20, 2018 4 min read
President Barack Obama speaks before signing the "Every Student Succeeds Act," on Dec. 10, 2015, in Washington.

Corrected: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the Obama administration’s guidance regarding evidence standards for sexual assault under Title IX, and to accurately describe the ‘clear and convincing’ evidence standard.”

President Donald Trump has made it clear: He doesn’t like much of what President Barack Obama did as president. And like in other policy areas, the Trump administration has rolled back several education initiatives or policies enacted during the Obama era. But just how much of its predecessors’ work has the Trump team discarded, and how much is still around?

We looked at a range of Obama administration education guidance documents, regulations, program initiatives, and other actions, and put them into three categories to highlight where they stand under Trump. We left out things like Obama’s Race to the Top competitive grants, which are high profile but expired before Trump took office. And we’ve tried to look only at policies and initiatives begun under Obama’s watch, not more general shifts in direction under the current administration.

Supporters of the Trump administration’s moves to undo Obama-era policies say they return appropriate autonomy to educators and state and local policymakers. However, some groups have pushed back, saying among other things that these reversals could harm vulnerable students.

Tossed Out

Racial Diversity Guidance: In July 2018, the Trump Education and Justice Departments rescinded several guidance documents issued by the Obama administration designed to encourage schools and colleges to take race into account in order to promote student diversity. The Obama administration issued the guidance in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The Trump administration argued that the guidance advocated for certain positions that went beyond the Constitution’s requirements.

Transgender Guidance: This civil rights guidance said that transgender students should be able to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity, not the gender they were born into. The Trump administration scrapped this guidance in February 2017, saying the issue was best resolved at the state and local levels.

ESSA Accountability Regulations: In March 2017, GOP lawmakers in Congress, with the encouragement of the Trump administration, used the Congressional Review Act to scrap the Obama administration’s accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act. Republicans said the regulations went beyond the bounds of the law. Democrats said they were key to clarifying confusing parts of ESSA. The regulations have not been replaced.

Title IX Guidance: The Trump administration ditched guidance that required colleges to use a “preponderance of the evidence” (or more-likely-than-not standard) when determining if a sexual assault took place. Instead, in temporary guidance, the Trump administration gave schools and colleges the choice of using a higher “clear and convincing” evidence standard. The Trump administration said it plans to issue more permanent guidance in the future.

Teacher-Preparation Regulations: GOP lawmakers in Congress, with the urging of the Trump administration, tossed Obama-era regulations that required states to judge teacher-preparation organizations, including colleges of education, in part on how well their graduates are able to improve student test scores. The regulations have not been replaced.

School-Integration Grants: On its way out the door, the Obama administration created a $12 million grant program that would have given up to 20 school districts the opportunity to craft new roadmaps for increasing student diversity and to get started on those plans. The Trump administration did not move forward with the program, and the money went back to the U.S. Treasury.

Hot Seat

Special Education Disparities Rule: In 2016, the Obama administration issued a rule requiring states to take new, more-robust approaches in determining whether districts have wide racial or ethnic disparities when identifying students for special education. However, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed a two-year delay in this rule’s implementation.

Student-Discipline Guidance: In 2014, the Obama administration issued guidance notifying districts that they might be violating civil rights law if they use intentionally discriminatory discipline policies, or if their policies result in disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students in a particular racial group. DeVos and her team are reviewing this guidance, which has been in the spotlight since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018, and she could decide to rescind it.

Safe for Now

Promise Neighborhoods: The Trump administration in its budget proposals has tried to shrink the program, which the Obama administration used to promote various wraparound services for students. The administration sought to cut its budget from $73 million in fiscal 2017 to $60 million in fiscal 2018, for example. However, in the most recent spending bill for fiscal 2018, signed by President Trump, Congress provided a small increase to Promise Neighborhood grants.

Preschool Development Grants: For two straight years, the Trump team has tried to eliminate these grants in its proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, Congress has kept the $250 million in annual funding for these grants intact so far.

Education Innovation and Research Fund: In 2017, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed using the fund, created through the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, to support private school choice programs in states. Congress, however, rejected this plan in its final appropriations for fiscal 2018.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program: Although the Trump administration tried to end these comprehensive sex-education grants, a federal judge ruled recently that the Trump administration must process grant applications from groups seeking funding through the program.

A version of this article appeared in the June 20, 2018 edition of Education Week as How Obama K-12 Policies Have Fared Under Trump

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