One Heck of a Week

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Unless you were part of a very tight group of people in the Donald Trump campaign, you were likely surprised at the outcome of last Tuesday’s Presidential Election. Trump shocked the nation with his victory, and when I say nation, I mean everyone, from voters, to children, to prognosticators, and especially pollsters. Pollsters got this so wrong that an election that was set to be a landslide ended as a huge upturn of political society.

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To be fair and honest, I was not particularly thrilled with the outcome of this election. But it “is what it is,” as we like to say, and America will move forward. My hope is that Donald Trump will rebound and not be like he was during his campaign. That he will be more “presidential,” less likely to lash out at 3am on twitter, and do things not just for the greater good, but with all citizens in mind, not just those who voted for him. In the end, that is what people want their president to be—fair and open minded, with the understanding that he leads 330 million people, not just the 60 million that voted for him.

With Trump’s acceptance on early Wednesday morning, he sounded a conciliatory tone that was, well, presidential. There existed a moment of calmness that this may not be us unnerving for some as we thought.

But then the activity began and the ground began to shake.

First was the announcement of Myron Ebell, a climate denier, as head of the EPA transition. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to appoint someone like Ebell unless you want to upend current federal policy and alter agreements in support of dirty coal and oil, setting back energy policy 40 years. Second, on Friday afternoon during a taping for 60 minutes that aired last night, Trump announced that he would immediately pursue, lock up, and deport up to 3 million illegal aliens who have criminal records. From an argumentative point of view, most of us could understand the point, but it is much more complex than it seems. Not all of the “criminals” are severe criminals. They aren’t all murders or rapists, of any of a serious ilk. But regardless, how we find and deport that many people is currently not logistically feasible. We can try, but we aren’t going to find a majority of them. What happens to the other, non-criminal illegal immigrants is unknown.

Then yesterday, Trump made the announcement that Stephen Bannon will serve as Chief Strategist of the Administration. Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, a news agency that is anything but accurate and makes Fox News look like MSNBC by comparison. Breitbart is well known for its anti-Semitic and racist viewpoints.

From an education perspective, we aren’t really sure what Trump will do. Ben Carson has been floated as a possible Secretary of Education. Dr. Carson seems like a smart, decent person, so it is hard to argue that he would not be a good fit. What we do not know is what will happen with the US Department of Education in the near future. Will funding be significantly cut under Trump? Or will he heed pressure from right-wing demagogues who want the Department completely vanquished from the federal government?

The latter is unlikely. I think the days have passed when Republicans wanted to dismantle ED. But a majority of them would like to shrink it, and they will have their opportunity to do so. The Trump Chief of Staff is Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the GOP party. Priebus was chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party and helped bring Governor Scott Walker to power, who cut funding for the university system by hundreds of millions of dollars and weakened the power of academia in the state. Walker’s efforts sent shudders through American higher education. We will see if Priebus extends a similar effort via the US Department of Education.

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In K-12, there is speculation that the Administration will end the Common Core, which is interesting because the Common Core is a non-federal, non-profit entity that is supported in large part by the Republican-majority National Governors Association. However, it is possible that the Trump Administration could remove current strings to Race to the Top funding that support the Common Core (this is likely), if not eliminate RTTT and many other programs like it, including i3 and First in the World. There is talk that more federal money will be targeted to charter schools.

There are large parts of the Department of Education that can’t really be touched in a considerable way. They could be moved, but not eliminated. The Department currently runs the Direct Loan programs for higher education, and it is possible that a Trump Administration could revert the program back to private banks. But the Department would still need to administer the program, so the SFA could not be eliminated completely. The Department also provides legislation and financial support for Special Education and other programs that focus on historically underrepresented population.Title I programs focused on poor and minority students could be challenged, as well as English Language Acquisition grants and other “leveling” grants could be dismantled. These programs could not easily be eliminated without widespread and widesweeping legislation that Congress is unlikely to want to remove or change.

However, other programs could exit. Current programs that focus on low-income and minority students could disappear. Trio and GEAR, for instance, could be gone in a second if the president wants them gone. Certainly, the idea of free community college is off the table, but Republicans have stood up for a more affordable higher education, so something positive may come in this light.

It is too early to understand the ramifications of a Trump Presidency, the good and the bad. The reality is that with GOP control of the White House, the House, the Senate, and soon the Judiciary, Congress can do almost whatever it wants if they can agree with one another.

And that will be the challenge within the Republican Party.

As with the Democrats, Republicans do not all read from the same book. Trump will still be forced to create coalitions within his own party, and then, and only then, will they be able to ramrod legislation through Congress. But this will be no easy feat, given than Congress controls the purse strings of the federal government, not the president. Trump can veto, but if he does, he puts himself in a tough situation against his own party.

Whether you voted Republican, Democrat, Independent, or not at all, there is one thing we can all agree on: this will be a very interesting 2017.

Stay tuned, folks.

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About Educational Policy Institute

The Educational Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based research think tank on education and the social sciences. EPI conducts evaluation and policy studies on various educational issues from Pre-K to workforce outcomes in the United States, Canada, and beyond. Visit us at educationalpolicy.org.
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