With Donald Trump in the White House, what changes might be in store for education in the United States? When a new administration led by a different political party takes office in Washington, action on important issues is often difficult to predict. We asked Thomas Phillips, a congressional affairs specialist for Battelle, what the first year of the Trump presidency might mean for education:
Q: In general, how do you think education policy under President Donald Trump might differ from the policies of the Obama administration?
A: The stated goals of President Trump regarding education are limited, save for the fact that he wants to massively expand “school choice” opportunities through a new $20 billion block-grant program.
Unlike President Barack Obama, Trump has not identified specific goals for the federal Department of Education outside of school choice. For instance, President Obama branded early childhood education as a key issue and worked with his education secretaries to expand access to preschool — and that’s just one example.
We have yet to see President Trump speak about education with any specificity — which might be indicative of a new hands-off approach by the federal government.
Q: Does the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education herald an attempt at the federal level to shift power in educational matters from Washington to states or to local school districts?
A: Absolutely. Keeping in mind President Trump’s campaign goal of a “school choice” block grant program, the nomination and confirmation of an outspoken “school choice” advocate to lead the Department of Education indicates a desire to shift decision-making power out of the hands of the federal government and into the hands of state and local educational agencies.
Q: Do you think the Trump administration’s goal is to shutter, or possibly scale back or streamline, the Education Department?
A: While that is not an explicit goal of President Trump or Secretary DeVos, shifting power from the federal government to states and localities will most certainly result in a streamlined federal department.
Q: Do you think the new administration might revisit the Every Student Succeeds Act?
A: During her confirmation hearings, Secretary DeVos made it clear that she would enforce the current law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). That said, the Republican-controlled Congress has taken steps this legislative session to strip certain accountability measures from ESSA — a move in line with the administration’s education ideology.
Using the Congressional Review Act, the House of Representatives and Senate have already voted to do away with certain teacher preparation regulations, and President Trump has said that he’ll provide the final signoff. Additionally, once these regulations are phased out, the department will be unable to create similar ones.
Q: How might other education legislation that is up for reauthorization, such as the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, fare in the new administration and Congress?
A: As we saw during the previous Congress, Perkins came very close to reauthorization, passing out of the House with 405 “yea” votes. Unfortunately, it was held up in the Senate due to concerns regarding secretarial authority.
That said, the reauthorization of Perkins is a bipartisan, bicameral goal. Career and technical education are favored by Congress and the administration as vehicles for job creation and infrastructure revitalization.
This session of Congress, work on Perkins is well underway. While no legislation has been officially introduced, the House Education and Workforce Committee already held a hearing in the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education titled “Providing More Students a Pathway to Success by Strengthening Career and Technical Education.”
An educational hearing, the session laid the foundation for the introduction of the legislation, which is expected in the coming month. It is expected to pass out of the House with relative ease, and while there is less information regarding the Senate’s version this time around, it is expected to become a law before the end of the year.
Q: Do you think a federal school vouchers program is on the horizon?
A: President Trump campaigned on the promise of a federal voucher program and nominated a secretary of education known for her “school choice” advocacy. The program has been on the horizon for some time but is now tangible in the form of legislation that has been introduced.
House Resolution 610, or the Choices in Education Act of 2017, is a bill to “distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students.” It was introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, on Jan. 23.
No further action has been taken with respect to the bill, but based on the high priority the administration has placed on school choice, a federal voucher program is certainly not out of the question in the near future.
Q: What other changes in education might we see from Washington this year?
A: In addition to a possible voucher program, Perkins’ passage and regulatory reductions, expect work on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Additionally, don’t be surprised by structural changes within the department that might come from a more state-focused administration.