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: “Withholding fed $ from #sanctuarycities puts clear, negative consequences for jurisdictions ignoring federal law.”
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% of the students have left the city’s largely failed traditional public schools – D.C. ranks last after the 50 states, with a 69% 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 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 act helped her win.)
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.
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.