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Trump’s Past State of the Union Pitches and Schools: A Scorecard

By Alyson Klein — January 28, 2019 3 min read
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President Donald Trump was originally scheduled to give his State of the Union address (or #SOTU for social media fans) Tuesday night. But Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the Speaker of the House, told him he needed to wait until an end to the government shutdown, citing security concerns.

The shutdown is over, for now. Congressional negotiators will spend the next three weeks trying to reach a deal on border security. And on Monday, Pelosi invited Trump to deliver his address on Feb. 5.

But how much will Trump have actually had to say about education anyway? And will Congress give him anything that he asks for?

Here’s a quick recap of his last two annual addresses to Congress and what happened after:

Feb. 28, 2017

Trump’s pitch

In his very first address to Congress (which wasn’t technically a “State of the Union” address) Trump called education “the civil rights issue of our time,” borrowing language from leaders in both parties, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. He asked lawmakers to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.” He pointed to Denisha Merriweather, now an aide at the U.S. Department of Education, who failed 3rd grade twice before getting a scholarship from Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program to attend a private, religious school. Merriweather has since graduated from college and received a master’s degree in social work.

And Trump said he wanted to work across the aisle, “to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave.”

What actually happened

Trump and his team pitched a $250 million competitive-grant program aimed at broadening school choice, but a Republican-controlled Congress didn’t go for it. And while U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team worked behind the scenes on a federal tax credit scholarship program, similar to the Florida one that Merriweather benefited from, that didn’t come to fruition either.

Here’s what school choice fans did get: a provision in the new tax overhaul law allowing parents to use 529 college-savings accounts to cover the cost of private school tuition. DeVos called it a “step in the right direction,” but acknowledged that it wouldn’t meet the needs of low-income families or “empower them in significant ways.”

There wasn’t significant action on paid family leave. But the tax bill did increase the child tax credit, to $2,000 per dependent child.

Jan. 30, 2018

Trump’s pitch

Trump called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul law that would create a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers (undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children) while providing funding for a border wall and placing significant new restrictions on legal immigration. The pitch came after Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving temporary legal status to an estimated 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. (That includes an estimated 9,000 teachers, according to the Migration Policy Institute. What’s more, 250,000 schoolchildren have become DACA-eligible since Obama unveiled the program in 2012, according to the organization.)

Trump also gave a shout-out to vocational education, but didn’t offer specifics on how his administration would strengthen it. “Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential,” he said.

What actually happened:

The Dreamers remain in legal limbo. Federal judges have issued conflicting rulings on DACA’s legality, and its future is currently tied up in the courts. Meanwhile a deal on comprehensive immigration overhaul has proved elusive.

Congress did, however, pass a bipartisan update of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which allows states to set their own goals for career and technical education programs and make progress towards them.

President Donald Trump steered clear of education specifics in his Jan. 30 address to a joint session of Congress.--Win McNamee/AP

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