What a Trump Presidency Means for our Nation's Public Schools.
WHAT DONALD TRUMP’S VICTORY MEANS FOR EDUCATION: Donald Trump’s win will install a president in the White House who is likely to shake up the current education establishment just as aggressively as he plans to disrupt Washington. Trump’s presidency casts a great deal of uncertainty over federal education policy going forward.
— Trump made only a fleeting and vague reference to education during an acceptance speech early this morning, as he pledged to bring his business experience to government. Trump vowed “to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals.”
— Trump has offered few details about his views on education policy. But he and his surrogates have echoed some longstanding conservative talking points — all of which would drastically scale back the federal government’s role in both K-12 and higher education. Those ideas range from encouraging school choice through the use of federal block grants to transferring the student loan system back over to private lenders. Melania Trump has said she’d focus on protecting children from cyberbullying on social media, and Ivanka Trump has joined with her father to highlight the issue of child care affordability.
— Trump will clearly have common ground with congressional Republicans on some proposals. One area where Trump — who had strong backing from white voters without a college degree Tuesday night — is in lockstep with some GOP lawmakers is in calling for greater scrutiny of how colleges with massive endowments use those funds. North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who will likely become chair of the House education committee, previously told POLITICO that a Trump presidency would be “akin to Heaven on Earth” compared with the Obama administration's education and labor policies.
— Still, many of Trump’s education proposals have been vague, and at times contradictory. Trump wants to strip down the Education Department and get the federal government out of the student loan business. But he’s also proposed a more-liberal loan forgiveness plan than what is in place — a change that would likely be managed by the Education Department. Some of his pitches, like scrapping Common Core and ending political correctness on campus, are clearly outside the bounds of what a president can actually do. As a result, some in the education world are scratching their heads about what a President Trump will mean to them. “I don’t know that they’re freaking out. I think they’re thinking exactly what they were a few days before the election, which is, ‘Gee — what will he do?’” said Jason Delisle, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “We’ll have a lot of questions.”
— Trump has said he’d dismantle the Education Department — a decades-old conservative talking point. Still, a complete shutdown of the agency is unlikely to happen. His surrogates have said he’ll at least “downsize" the department to an entity that just allocates funding. For example, they’ve said there’s no need to keep the department’s Office for Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX enforcement and has become increasingly active over the last eight years as the spotlight on campus sexual assault increased. But eliminating OCR would be “absolutely devastating to survivors and educational access in this country,” said Alyssa Peterson, a policy coordinator at Know Your IX, a group that advocates on behalf of sexual assault victims.
— Trump campaigned on a vow to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but his posture suggests he may be gunning for the Ivory Tower too. “I don’t know what else Trump might have in store,” said Christopher P. Loss, a Vanderbilt University professor who studies the history of higher education policy. “Slashed research budgets? Austerity measures? Neither would surprise me. Obviously, Trump’s supporters aren’t found in great numbers inside the academy, and he exhibits little to no interest in the life of the mind, so some kind of retribution — given his well-known penchant for exacting revenge against his opponents — seems likely.” Benjamin Wermund has more.
WHAT WILL TRUMP’S EDUCATION DEPARTMENT LOOK LIKE? Donald Trump has made clear that the Education Department would play a reduced role in his administration — and he has even proposed eliminating it completely, which would take an act of Congress. But Trump has also offered a few hints about who he might pick to lead the department while it’s still around.
— Among those who may be on the shortlist is Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who ran against Trump in the primary but later endorsed the Republican presidential candidate. About Carson, Trump has said he was “most impressed with his views on education,” calling them a “tremendous strength.”
— Another possibility: Gerard Robinson, a fellow at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, who has been working on education issues for Trump’s transition team. Robinson, who previously held top education posts in Virginia and Florida, is a big supporter of school choice reforms that Trump has said would be a priority.
— Trump surrogate Carl Paladino, a businessman who previously challenged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and also sits on the local school board in Buffalo, N.Y., has said Trump’s pick probably wouldn’t be someone from the education policy world. Some speculate Trump could pick someone with a business background.
— New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is leading Trump’s transition team, has had a hostile relationship with teachers unions.
STATUS QUO FOR SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE: Republicans maintained their control of the Senate last night — which means Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) will most likely continue as chair of the Senate HELP Committee. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who cruised to re-election last night, is likely to remain as the top Democrat on the panel.
NEW LEADERSHIP ON HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE: Republicans fended off Democratic challenges last night to hold on to the House — and that means there will be a new Republican chair of the House education committee. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is the frontrunner to replace the retiring chairman Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.). Here’s a look at what Foxx wants to do as chair of the committee.
— On the Democratic side of the committee, things will likely stay the same, as Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) returns as the top Democrat on the panel.
WHAT WOULD TRUMP DO ON HIGHER ED REGS? Donald Trump has said little about how he would approach federal rules on colleges and universities. He has spoken broadly about scaling back federal regulations, so it’s likely he’ll target some of Obama’s higher education rules for elimination. And there are a handful of outstanding issues that will be left over from the Obama administration — issues with which a Trump Education Department will have to grapple.
— Student loan repayment: Trump has called for a new income-based repayment option that would cap borrowers’ monthly payments at 12.5 percent of their income and forgive any remaining debt after borrowers make payments for 15 years. That’s a slight shift from the existing policy, which sets those thresholds at 10 percent and 20 years, respectively. The Obama administration expanded those benefits to some borrowers through regulation — but it’s unclear whether Trump would also seek to adopt his plan through executive authority, or instead work with Congress to change the law.
— State authorization regulations: The Obama administration is in the process of finalizing a regulation aimed at requiring state regulators to take a more-aggressive approach to overseeing the online college programs in their states. The rule likely won’t take effect until July 2018 — which will give the incoming Trump administration plenty of time to tinker with the nuts and bolts of the controversial rule — or just completely eliminate it, as some Republicans would like.
— Borrower defense to repayment: The Obama administration last week finalized a sweeping package of rules aimed at making it easier for defrauded student loan borrowers to seek forgiveness of their debt. But it will be the Trump administration that implements the new regulations when they take effect in July 2017. Trump has sympathized with the plight of struggling student loan borrowers at various times on the campaign trail — but he hasn’t given any indication of how he would approach the issue of debt relief for defrauded borrowers.
WHAT ABOUT K-12? Trump’s pick for Education secretary will have to grapple with the Every Student Succeeds Act and how it affects nearly 100,000 public schools across the country. The Obama administration’s strong ESSA regulations have drawn the ire of Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, along with state and local education officials, teachers unions and others. The Trump administration will likely have zero appetite to carry on Obama’s legacy and it’s possible that all the regulatory work to date could be upended or changed in a major way.
— Two key regulations to watch: ‘supplement, not supplant,’ and accountability. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. so far has proposed strong regulations for holding schools and school districts accountable for student learning and progress, in addition to ensuring that at-risk students are getting their fair share of state and local education dollars on top of federal Title I funding. Education policy watchers expect the Obama administration might be able to release a final rule in the coming months for holding schools accountable that both teachers unions and civil rights advocates can live with. But whether that’s true for the Title I spending issue — called supplement, not supplant — is unclear.
— The Education Department’s draft rule for supplement, not supplant, released in August, aims to equalize funding across schools in order to solve a historic problem: that poor and minority students often aren’t getting their fair share of resources. But states and districts worry the rule will prove be a compliance nightmare. Noelle Ellerson, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said the Title I spending issue might prove a key part of Obama’s equity legacy, which means the administration might stick to its guns and issue a strong final rule in its final months.
— Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander has said he won’t hesitate to use the Congressional Review Act to void the regulations — a move that needs a presidential signature in order to take effect. Ellerson said a rider on a congressional appropriations bill is also a possibility.
— The Trump administration would also have a few options for handling controversial ESSA regulations left by Obama. Trump’s Education Department could re-open an often painful process called negotiated-rulemaking — essentially starting from scratch on a regulation. Federal officials could make tweaks to the rules or Trump’s Education Department could loosely enforce Obama’s ESSA regulations. And the Trump administration could put out federal guidance — which is only supposed to clarify the Education Department’s position on law — in a way that gives states and districts flexibility beyond what was envisioned by Obama’s regulations.
— The next Education secretary will also have to approve state plans for holding schools accountable under ESSA. The Obama administration had a strong federal role when it came to grant-making and issuing and monitoring waivers from No Child Left Behind. So education policy wonks will be closely watching the Trump administration to see who’s making key ESSA decisions at the Education Department, and just how much flexibility will be granted to states.