Kerr: A Kid In Trump’s America

This post originally appeared on Dems for Education Reform's Medium

At Democrats for Education Reform, we think this is a perfect opportunity, as election day nears, to emphasize just how disastrous a Trump presidency would be for America’s children. As Democrats, we must all come together in determination to ensure that no kid has to live in Donald Trump’s America.

Growing up in Trump’s America would mean living in a world of increased inequality. It would mean a conservative House majority empowered to cutfree school lunches for children who need them. It would mean a greater chance of getting asthma in coal country after President Trump abolishes the Environmental Protection Agency and prioritizes regressive energy policies over clean jobs for the future.

With Trump leading America, a child’s skin color or religion could make him or her the object of public suspicion. Children of undocumented immigrants could be separated from their family by federal agents. These conditions would make access to a quality education all but impossible even before a child entered the classroom.

Once that child got to the classroom, however, Trump’s education policies would be almost as disastrous. The Republican nominee has promised “tremendous cutting” to the Department of Education if elected president, and those cuts would disproportionately affect our most vulnerable communities. Trump wants to significantly limit the federal government’s role in education in favor of a highly localized approach, but federal programs like Title I are crucial to closing the achievement gap for low-income kids.

Similarly, Trump seeks to eliminate federal safeguards on quality education for all students, such as the Common Core. Trump cloaks these proposals in the rhetoric of local control, but they actually would serve to strip back years of progress in making sure our education system is accountable for teaching all students — not just the most privileged.

As Democrats for Education Reform, we champion school choice among high-quality public schools, but Trump’s voucher plan shrinks from that ideal. Under Trump’s plan, public education money would follow students not just to the public school of their choice, like traditional districts and public charter schools, but to private schools as well. The result would be a system in which public money would flow to private institutions whose curricula and admissions practices lie almost completely outside public oversight.

The venue of Trump’s education speech also underscores just how much he perverts the ideal of public school choice. As an ideal, choice is meant to ensure that all students have the option of attending a high-quality public school — that is what charter schools are primarily for. The Ohio charter school where Trump gave his speech, the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, gives students no such option. The school, like many in Ohio, fails to live up to the promise of quality education, instead garnering failing reviews from the state. In the 2014–2015 school year, fewer than half of its students scored proficient or better in math and reading.

Under any good charter school law — such as the one here in Massachusetts — the Academy’s existence would be threatened: a cornerstone of progressive charter school policy is strict accountability for learning. In Ohio, however, charter regulation is lax, and the schools can often be for-profit. The strong public oversight of Massachusetts’ public charter schools, combined with their demonstrable progress in closing achievement gaps, is why we support them so strongly here.

It’s not surprising, however, that Trump would favor a lack of accountability in education, given that Trump University would certainly fail the accountability standards of any progressive charter school proponent. Charter schools have a major role to play in closing achievement gaps, but Trump’s rejection of accountability and regulation would destroy their ability to play that role effectively.

As Democrats for Education Reform, we are especially sensitive to the disaster that a Trump presidency would be for America’s children. That disaster would be borne primarily by students who most need federal- and state-level intervention to secure their civil right to a quality education. As Democrats, we certainly sometimes disagree on what is best in education, but all Democrats — and indeed, all Americans — should recognize the need to unify on behalf of our children against the prospect of a President Trump.

If that prospect doesn’t scare you enough, you need only consider the prospect of a kid in Trump’s America.

Liam Kerr is DFER’s Massachusetts State Director.