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Trump’s Declared an ‘Emergency’ on Immigration. Could a Future President Declare One on Education?

By Alyson Klein — February 24, 2019 2 min read
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President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency along the southern border of the issue of illegal immigration and wants to divert more than $8 billion in federal funding to build a wall, even though Congress isn’t on board with the plan.

The issue is likely to be tied up in courts for months or more, with 16 states suing the Trump administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill trying to block the move. But if Trump is able to stick by his plan, it could represent a big shift in executive power.

After all, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., argued that, “A Democratic president can declare emergencies, as well ... So the precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans.” And Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. is using that a reason not to support Trump’s move.

That has us wondering: Could a future president—from either party—declare a national emergency on the achievement gap? Teacher shortages? Or, more likely, the long-term economic impact of not preparing enough students for the jobs of the future?

After all, there’s plenty of data, and even reports, to encourage a president inclined to do so, starting with 1983’s “A Nation At Risk,” which warned the U.S. was falling dangerously behind its foreign competitors in educating students, and continuing with 2005’s “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which found that inadequate K-12 science education posed a threat to American leadership in science in a globalized economy.

More recently, in 2013, researchers from Georgetown University concluded that the economy will face a shortage of 5 million workers who have the needed training and education to do the jobs available.

So does that open the door for a President Bernie Sanders to declare an emergency on student debt, or a President Elizabeth Warren to declare an emergency on affordable child care? Or a President Marco Rubio to declare an emergency on lack of choice in education?

Not so fast, said David DeSchryver, a senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors, a strategic consulting firm.

On the one hand, he could see how a potential leader could make an argument that a troubled K-12 system is hindering economic growth. “There are big questions about whether we have enough skilled and educated individuals to meet the demands of a changing economy. We need to rethink the way we operate. There’s a continuum of programs that are not sufficing, and that has some serious economic consequences.”

But it’s tougher to say that the federal government should be given new power to resolve the problem, given that education has generally been a local and state issue, he said.

“You could build a case that there is a national crisis,” he said. “It would be hard to build a case that the federal government is best suited to solve that crisis.”

President Donald Trump turns back to the audience after speaking during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House Feb. 15 to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border. --Susan Walsh/AP

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