What Will A Donald Trump Presidency Mean for Public Education in the U.S.?

Written by: Nancy Duchesneau

Primary Source:  Green & Write November 9, 2016

Education has not been at the forefront of the general election this year, but it would be remiss to assume the new President-elect won’t have an impact on the 50 million students currently in prekindergarten through 12th grade. Despite a glaring lack of policy details provided throughout the campaign, Donald Trump has indicated several policy preferences from which we can glean what his presidency may mean for our education system.

Expansion of School Choice

While visiting the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy (CASSA), Trump revealed that he is in favor of school choice policies, indicating that he aims to invest $20 billion of federal funding in states’ school choice programs that include both public and private school options. The expectation is that states will also collectively invest $110 billion of their own education budgets toward the same goal. While the hope is to provide low-income students with better educational options, the issue of school choice remains controversial due to mixed results across the country. In fact, CASSA, the charter school Trump was visiting when he unveiled his plan, is currently a failing school itself according to its latest report card. Furthermore, a number of research studies have found that parents of low-income students are not always provided all of the information necessary to make informed decisions in the face of school choice, eliminating the theoretical “choice” inherent in the policy. It’s currently unclear where the federal funding Trump proposes would come from, but a valid concern is that it could come from gutting Title I funding designated for impoverished students.

College Affordability

Although Bernie Sanders can be credited with bringing college affordability to the forefront of this election by advocating for free public college nationwide, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sought to garner votes through their support of policies that would reduce the burden of debt on college students and graduates. Although Trump’s website maintains vaguely-worded support of reducing the cost of college and the burden of student debt, he specified in an October speech that he plans to implement an income-based repayment plan in which graduates pay 12.5% of their income for 15 years, after which any remaining balance would be forgiven. This is more generous than the current income-based repayment plan of 10% of income over 20 years. Trump, however, has said little more about his plans for higher education.

Role of the Federal Government

Trump has also made comments not uncommon to conservatives regarding the role of the federal government in education. Similar to Republican colleagues, Trump criticizes the Common Core as federal overreach (despite being a product of state collaboration) and even suggests the possibility of cutting the Department of Education. It thus appears that Trump intends to, at the least, significantly reduce the role of the federal government in education.

Remaining Questions

With regard to the major policy preferences Trump has put forth, questions remain as to their likelihood to get through Congress, as well as what the impacts of these policies will be once implemented.

As to the remaining black box of Trump’s intentions for education, a number of questions have yet to be answered. How will the Trump administration handle the Every Student Succeeds Act? What will happen to the regulations the Department of Education is in the process of finalizing? Who will Trump’s Secretary of Education be? What kind of president will Trump be for our education system?

Contact Nancy: Duchesn4@msu.edu

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Nancy Duchesneau
Prior to joining the Education Policy Ph.D. program, Nancy utilized her B.S. in psychology by working as a private in-home tutor and a sub-contracted tutor in public schools. Currently in her third year, Nancy’s research interests stem from the belief that education must work in tandem with other policy areas, yet must also provide a base level of holistic support to all students. Topics of interest include social-emotional learning, in-school health programs, accountability, and equity.