A transformational education agenda espoused by Presidential candidate Donald Trump flew largely under the radar during the election, as more controversial soundbites captured news coverage. As the transition has begun, more Americans are finally learning about Trump’s education agenda, and there’s only one way to describe its significance: revolutionary.
Over the years, Trump has advocated for paying good teachers more, opening the schoolhouse doors to competition and giving parents greater control over their children’s education. These pronouncements have a lot of voters going “back to school” to learn more about the new President-elect’s education policies.
Many voters are surprised to learn that back in 2000, private citizen Trump wrote about breaking the education monopoly and enacting school choice as a mechanism for helping low-income kids out of the cycle of poverty. In his book titled “The America We Deserve,” he talked about investing in education and argued that education results are never just a matter of how much money we spend, but of how well we spend it.
To no one’s surprise, Trump’s education agenda has attracted the attention of advocates of the status quo. Why? Because Trump is willing to take on the powerful education monopoly and the teachers union, and they know it.
By taking on the education bureaucracy, Trump has differentiated himself from every Presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton catered to the education bureaucracy, even changing her support for charter schools after getting booed at the National Federation of Teachers gathering when she embraced charter schools in her remarks to the group. The NFT later endorsed Clinton.
But unlike Reagan, who campaigned to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, Trump announced his plans to appoint an education choice leader to head the Department. For parents who want greater control over their children’s education, that was a very encouraging distinction.
I know. I worked on the Reagan Campaign in 1980 and was buoyed by Reagan’s plan to eliminate the newly-created Department of Education.
After the campaign, I moved to DC and following the lavish Presidential Inaugural of which I served as vice chairman of marketing. (It is worth noting that Trump is foregoing the inaugural celebrations, rolling up his sleeves and going right to work.)
I headed to the U.S. Department of Education as the first White House Liaison. I was eager to carry out the campaign promises, only to find that former Health Education and Welfare bureaucrat Terrell Bell — the new Secretary of Education — had no plans to shutter the Department.
Under President Reagan’s leadership, the iconic study “A Nation At Risk” was released. It was the first study which revealed that the U.S. education system was mediocre at best. And now, 33 years later, our education system is still failing to compete with other developed nations which are spending far less.
Trump has not made the same mistake. Trump’s announcement to nominate Betsy DeVos — an active and articulate leader in the education choice movement — is reason for school reform advocates to celebrate and for status-quo bureaucrats to be concerned.
DeVos has also articulated her long-held vision for improving education. When asked in 2001 if she opposed public education, DeVos responded she was for good education and helping every child have an opportunity to secure one. She is a strong proponents of fundamentally changing the way we approach education, because “there are hundreds of thousands and millions of children that are forced to go every day to a school that is not meeting their needs and it’s not right.”
To look at her record, it is clear she is in sync with Trump’s major education policies. DeVos spoke at SXSWedu last March in Austin, Texas, and started her address with this premise: “We must revolutionize our education delivery system in America.”
In outlining the need for an education revolution, she acknowledged that change is hard. But our country will not be competitive until every child has educational opportunities.
DeVos, like Trump, champions competition and innovation. She has said we need entrepreneurs and innovators to overcome the political class that keeps us bound to an antiquated status quo.
In Austin, DeVos said it is time to modernize and innovate, to think big and consider how things could be. It is not left versus right but industrial versus digital, Model T versus Tesla. We must open the education industry, and it IS an industry. We support innovation and oppose monopolies in every other area of life.
As long as education remains a closed system, we won’t see real innovation that benefits a majority of students.
She advocates allowing education funding to follow each child to the educational environment the parent chooses. DeVos says this will allow families without means to get a world-class education. That’s precisely what Trump has advocated for years.
DeVos has served as leader of the National Federation for Children, and also serves on the board of the group started by Jeb Bush, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Bush supports Common Core education standards, an association which prompted DeVos to issue a statement saying that she is not a Common Core advocate.
It is fair to say that the Trump cabinet will likely support his agenda. After all, this is going to be the President who is known for saying “you’re fired.”
Long before the DeVos appointment, candidate Trump signaled his continued commitment to education reform in his vice presidential selection.
Vice President-Elect Mike Pence has championed education choice in the form of private school choice and charter schools which are public schools of choice.
During the campaign, Trump proposed using existing federal funding to create a $20 billion federal program to encourage school choice nationwide. He has vowed to divert current education spending to the states to be used for school choice, and specifically to allow low-income parents to receive public funding to move their children out of their assigned school districts and into the private or parochial schools they prefer.
Trump, a champion of competition, advocates school choice as his goal for all parents.
No one knows precisely what the Trump/Pence/DeVos education policy will look like, but they have created a roadmap for change. If we believe that in staffing the Administration, “people are policy,” it is safe to say that education choice and school reform will not be mere campaign promises. They will be the benchmark of the Trump Administration’s education agenda as a vehicle to provide opportunity for every student to achieve their version of the American dream.
Peggy Venable served as the first White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan. Venable has been named one a “Texas Influencer” by Campaigns and Election Magazine. She served on the board of the Texas Center for Education Research. She has also served as Texas Director of Americans for Prosperity, and as Senior Policy Fellow for Education for AFP, and is currently working with Texans for Education Opportunity, EdChoice and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.