A meme currently popular on the internet features President Obama and Vice President Biden sharing a joke on the front steps of the White House.
“Our followers have no idea we handed Trump the right to indefinitely detain people without trial,” said Biden. “I know it’s hilarious,” says the (meme) President. “Got ’em!” concludes meme Biden.
And the use of the levers of federal and executive power Democrats have created for years against them by Trump and the Republican House and Senate is likely. A few days after the election, retiring Senator David Vitter suggested using the federal purse strings to regulate sanctuary cities that take a secessionist approach to immigration law:
— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) November 16, 2016
The policy areas that could – or should – feel the pressure of a federal government expanded by President Obama, Senator Reid, and Congresswoman Pelosi but now controlled by President-elect Trump, are numerous.
A prime candidate is education policy.
This is potentially a contentious issue. Trump supporters include a healthy portion of people who have hated “common core,” Michelle Obama’s inedible school lunches, and other federal interventions in local schools. One of Trump’s rumored candidates for Secretary of Education, Stanford University academic Williamson Evers, is one of the chief critics of common core and other federal interventions in education.
But one issue stands out as a more fundamental, often described as a civil rights issue: school choice. And school choice was one policy Trump ran on, especially when campaigning in urban areas among minority voters trapped in failed traditional public school systems, with the President-elect proposing shifting $20 billion of the Department of Education’s budget into funding for local school voucher programs modeled on Washington, D.C.’s Opportunity Vouchers.
One of the dirty secrets of education in America is that American students receive separate and unequal educations.
In Washington, D.C., for example, where 45 percent of the students have left the city’s largely failed traditional public schools – D.C. ranks last after the 50 states, with a 69 percent graduation rate – for charter schools (and to a lesser degree private schools using the Congressionally mandated Opportunity Scholars voucher program), a child receives a radically unequal amount of public funding depending on where they choose to go to school.
D.C. traditional public school students earn the public school system $29,000 each (the highest per pupil budget in the nation aside from Manhattan and a few other jurisdictions). But kids in charter schools are only budgeted in the low $20,000s.
And kids using the Opportunity Vouchers to go to a private or parochial school receive $13,000. Even more remarkably the recipient of the vouchers in D.C. are overwhelmingly African American, while the most contented parents and students in the traditional public schools are the mainly white bureaucrats and lobbyists who live in the million dollar plus housing in posh sections of Capitol Hill and Upper NW and send their kids to the well tended public schools in their wealthy neighborhoods.
Public school systems don’t like to share the data about their radically unequal school funding (or their sometimes disastrous graduation rates), but school choice reformers tell me the unequal funding one finds in Washington, D.C. is true across the country.
So why not tie federal funding of education (or of highways or anything else), to ending the discrimination against children who choose to be educated outside of the traditional, politician and teacher’s union dominated, public schools? Why shouldn’t the amount of public money budgeted for a child’s education be the same no matter where she goes to school?
It should be a popular move.
The number of students attending charter schools is on the rise, and so are the number of politicians running on the issue.
In a little over 2 percent of the 6,000 races for state houses and legislatures this November, one relatively new political group backed candidates and had an extremely high success rate. “If the teacher’s unions spent more than any other political entity, but can only point to a handful of local races where those they supported won, that speaks for itself,” says Matt Frendewey of the American Federation for Children.
The American Federation for Children supported 120 state and local 2016 candidates who ran on expanding school choice – including charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits – and by Frendeway’s count 108 of them won.
In one race the AFC did not get involved in, a Republican, Ashley Carter, dislodged a 10 year incumbent for the D.C. city wide at-large seat on the school board (in a technically non-partisan race). (Though she did campaign on school choice issues, Carter says not being the incumbent in such a failed system, and going to hundreds of events and listening to people in every Ward is what helped her win.)
Though school choice is often associated with Republican (and Libertarian) candidates, a growing number of Democrats, especially urban and African American Democrats whose constituents are trapped in failing traditional public school systems, have also come out for school choice.
AFC does not support candidates for federal office, but notes that of the Democratic victories for the House of Representatives last week, three were pro-school choice candidates: Al Lawson (FL), Darren Soto (FL), and Dwight Evans (PA).
AFC, less than a decade old, spent $5 million supporting pro-school choice candidates (down from $8 million it spent in previous election cycles, when it was involved in opposing the recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker).
The American Federation of Teachers, in opposition to whom the American Federation of Children takes its name, also claimed victories in the election.
“When the issue was whether to support its community public schools, communities said ‘yes.’ Voters chose to protect and support the institution of public education. You can see this in the defeat of measures to expand charter schools, in the passage of measures to invest in public education, and in the support of school board members who will work with educators to provide a high-quality public education for all children,” Randi Weingarten, the president of AFT said. “These victories send a strong message that Americans want our schools to use proven, evidence-based solutions to the challenges that hold children back.”
Yet in the AFT’s press release “Americans Voted for Public Schools over Privatization” the elections where candidates or initiatives favoring more taxes for and investment in traditional public schools and limits on the expansion of charter schools and other education alternatives won were limited to Detroit, San Francisco, and a very small number of other very Democratic jurisdictions.
AFT and the National Education Association had spent nearly twenty times as much money on electoral activities. The two groups (and their state affiliates), which unlike AFC, do support candidates in federal elections, had concentrated some resources on the presidential race in support of Hillary Clinton.
The NEA’s headquarters building in D.C., located a few blocks north of the White House, was bedecked for months with a large banner in support of Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid.
Pollsters are widely believed to have failed in their predictions for this election cycle, but the American Federation for Children commissioned a poll in January 2016 that predicted that 70 percent of American voters would support a pro-school choice candidate.
With such wide support in polls for school choice, and with the number of students leaving traditional public schools growing, making receiving federal funds conditional on treating all students equally should be a popular issue.