President Trump and An American Education Agenda
In early 2018, Pacific Research Institute released my publication An American Education Agenda, which included my five top reform recommendations for the federal government. It is heartening to see that President Trump and his administration have addressed, in some form, most of my recommendations.
The five federal recommendations in An American Education Agenda include: shrink the size of the U.S. Department of Education; appoint an effectiveness task force to review federal education programs; enact a federal tax credit for school choice; repeal Obama-era policies; and widen the discussion of school choice.
The Trump administration is trying to shrink the size of the U.S. Department of Education in a number of ways.
In its 2020 budget proposal, the administration seeks to “implement fundamental reforms aimed at reducing the size and scope of the Federal role in education” by eliminating funding for “29 programs that do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, are ineffective, or are more appropriately supported with State, local, or private funds.”
Eliminating these programs would save taxpayers nearly $7 billion.
In February 2019, the Trump administration announced its Education Freedom Scholarships, which “will provide for a $5 billion annual federal tax credit for voluntary donations to state-based scholarship programs.”
Under the tax-credit proposal, individuals and businesses contributing to state-identified “Scholarship Granting Organizations,” which give out scholarships to students, would be “eligible to receive a non-refundable, dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit.” No contributors would be allowed a total tax benefit greater than the amount of their contribution.
Participating states can structure the scholarship program’s student eligibility, education providers, and education expenses, but the administration says that some things for which the scholarships could be used include advanced, remedial, and elective courses, private and home education, special education services and therapies, tutoring, and summer and afterschool programs.
In An American Education Agenda I wrote, “a federal tax credit for school choice is the best way for Washington to offer parents and their children greater opportunities in education.” Similarly, the Trump administration says that its tax-credit proposal “would empower students and families to choose the best education setting for them—regardless of where they live, how much they make, and how they learn.”
Also in An American Education Agenda, I cited several bad Obama-era policies that I said needed to be repealed, including the 2014 directive that warned school districts to repeal discipline policies that might have a disparate impact on minority students, even if these policies were “not adopted with intent to discriminate.”
Yet, as I pointed out, large longitudinal research showed that prior student behavior, not race, is the key factor in explaining why students are suspended.
The Obama anti-suspension directive contributed to increasing chaos in schools and to endangering the safety of students, teachers, and school staff.
In December 2018, the Trump administration repealed the Obama anti-discipline directive, with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos saying: “I’ve heard from teachers and advocates that the previous administration’s discipline guidance often led to school environments where discipline policies were based on a student’s race and where statistics became more important than the safety of students and teachers.”
Finally, I recommended that the Trump administration use the bully pulpit to educate the American people as to why they should support school-choice options for the nation’s children.
It was therefore very heartening to hear President Trump, in his 2019 State of the Union speech, declare: “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.”
Not long after his declaration, the administration unveiled its federal school-choice tax-credit proposal.
I am not saying that that the actions of the Trump administration are due to An American Education Agenda, although I know that top administration officials have read the publication. Rather, I am simply pointing out the fact that administration is enacting or attempting to enact policies that mirror my recommendations.
Wherever the inspiration for those policies may derive, the result is extremely encouraging for the future of education in our country.
— Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. In 2016-17, he served as a member of President Trump’s transition Agency Action Team for education policy.