If you are going to read one article about public education this week, I recommend Derek Black’s commentary in last Friday’s USA Today, Trump’s ‘Education Freedom’ Plan Is an Attack on Public Schools. That’s Un-American. Derek Black is a professor of law at the University of South Carolina.
Black begins by challenging what he calls the coded language being used by President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to pitch DeVos’s one program idea—the one she has pitched unsuccessfully to Congress now for three years running and the program she is pitching again this year. This is, of course, her idea for a kind of federal private school vouchers at public expense, a $5 billion plan for tuition-tax-credits.
Black explains: “‘Education freedom’—the Trump administration’s new buzzwords—is not about good education for the public. It’s about ending all that public education stands for. The administration won’t claim that precise goal because it’s politically toxic, including with a huge chunk of its own base. Instead, President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have carefully aimed at core aspects of public education without ever formally declaring war. But peel away the coded language and convoluted tax schemes, and the only thing left is an agenda incompatible with public education.”
In his State of the Union message, Trump described “American children trapped in government schools.”
Black responds: “‘Government schools’ refers to public schools in general… (T)he point is to equate public schools with all the negative connotations government conjures—waste, bureaucracy and liberty-crushing control.”
And with DeVos’s “Education Freedom Tax Credits,” writes Black, the administration is “casting government schools as the enemy of education freedom… Yet… the administration’s education freedom does not actually mean educational opportunities that free students. It doesn’t mean securing a quality education—private or public—for every student or opening doors of opportunity that were once closed. Education freedom means something much narrower: exiting public schools with the assistance of state and federal dollars. The education quality students receive after they exit, the segregation it might produce, and the exclusion and discrimination students might face are not matters the administration is worried about.”
Black reminds us that throughout American history, “The dominant story of public education…. has been expanding our commitments in public education to find solutions to the nation’s greatest challenges.. When deciding how the nation would expand westward and form new states in the late 1780s, Congress divided every square inch of undeveloped land into square townships and counties, reserving the center plots of land for schools… Congress directed that these schools were to ‘forever be encouraged.’ When the nation sought to lift poor whites out of illiteracy and blacks into citizenship at the end of the Civil War, Congress demanded that state constitutions guarantee uniform school systems that provided education to all children. To fund them, they mandated taxes. When the nation was struggling to break free of its Jim Crow discrimination, public education was chosen to lead the way—even as resistors explicitly tried to end public schooling (and replace it with vouchers).”
Black concludes: “Trump and DeVos have a vision of private education and individual freedom that is more than misleading; it’s dangerous. They are sowing the notion that a fundamental pillar of our democracy is antiquated and oppressive.”