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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Federal Opinion

As an Education Prez, Trump Would Be Obama’s Spiritual Heir

By Rick Hess — September 20, 2016 2 min read
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On the Ed Week homepage, Max Eden and I lament the lack of a conservative in the presidential contest. We argue that a conservative candidate is sorely needed after 16 years of Bush-Obama tutelage in the perils of federal education expansionism.

What’s that? You say that Donald Trump is a conservative? Not so much. Trump has spent at least half his adult life as a Democrat, has been on every side of every major issue, and seems wholly unacquainted with the Constitution. As Max and I put it, “Trump will occasionally utter conservative-sounding phrases, but he’s no conservative—he shows no taste for limited government, no respect for federalism, and no faith in local institutions.”

That gets to the real problem with Trump—which is that, as an aspiring executive, he is Barack Obama’s spiritual heir. Yep, you read that right.

Our Madisonian system of government was designed to safeguard against the passions of the moment and the proclivities of problematic officials. The executive is unable to legislate on his (or her) own, and is thus limited in important ways.

Unfortunately, those strictures have been loosened in recent decades, especially by Obama. Perhaps nowhere has his disregard for this design been on clearer display than education. Those same progressive “education reformers” who are worried what a President Trump might do should recognize that the same stuff they’ve cheered under Obama has opened the door for Trump—or future imitators.

As Max and I wrote:

Trump promised earlier this year, “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, you have to. ... My first day, it gets signed, OK? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.” While conservatives do typically support gun rights, this isn’t even remotely a conservative proposal. Actually, it’s a lesson in the value of conservative governance.

Given that 4 in 10 Americans think arming teachers would make schools safer, Trump can insist that school safety is too important to leave to the whims of local officials who may put their own interests over what’s best for the kids. After all, Trump’s stance would be entirely consistent with the Obama administration’s “pen and phone” approach to teacher evaluation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers, school discipline, campus sexual assault, supplement-not-supplant, and much else. The logic is always: The federal government has a duty to ensure that local officials and educators are doing what’s right for kids.

I haven’t liked it when Obama has done it. And I suspect that I’ll have more company if Trump starts doing the same on behalf of school vouchers, or moves to conscript schools and colleges into combating illegal immigration. The question, if that comes to pass, will be whether any of my progressive friends recognize how much Obama has done to make possible the most disconcerting aspects of a Trump presidency.

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