As Californians adjust to the seismic shifts of Tuesday’s elections, education leaders are trying to divine what impact a Trump presidency will have on education in California.
At least in the short-term, it is likely that education reforms already in place will continue largely unaffected.
That can’t be said of other major areas of public policy, such as health care, climate change and immigration policies, where almost certain changes, and big ones at that, are expected.
By contrast to those issues, education played a relatively minor role in the campaign. Donald Trump’s post-election web posting on education is similarly short on details.
A major factor in ensuring continuity of the state’s education policies is that California’s political institutions remain firmly in Democratic hands. There is strong support among elected officials and teachers unions for the reforms underway. These include the Common Core standards in math and English, the Local Control Funding Formula and a new way of assessing school performance based on multiple measures.
During the campaign, Trump pledged to end the Common Core standards, which he has repeatedly referred to as “education through Washington, D.C.”
“Education should be local and locally managed,” said Trump back in January while campaigning in New Hampshire.
But the Common Core standards are not a federal program. They are adopted by each state individually, and regardless of what Trump tries to do, California is unlikely to abandon them. The state has invested billions of dollars in making them work. Unlike in some other states, the standards have generated little opposition in California.
On top of that, the new Every Student Succeeds Act, approved by Congress this past December to replace the No Child Left Behind law, specifically prohibits any “officer or employee of the federal government” from mandating that a state implement certain academic standards, tests or curriculum.
But just as the law prohibits Washington from requiring states to implement the Common Core, it also bars Trump or his Secretary of Education from telling states not to implement them.
“This is not something he could do through executive action or regulations,” said State Board of Education President Michael Kirst. “A new law would have to say that states cannot teach certain standards. He would have to override the viewpoint that the federal government should not get involved in determining academic standards.”
Trump has also expressed strong support for more school choice, including charter schools. But California already provides fertile grounds for charter schools. The state has not only more charter schools by far than any other state, but it also has a larger share of students enrolled in them relative to other states.
Gov. Jerry Brown is a strong backer of charter schools, having started two successful charter schools in Oakland when he was mayor there. But being a charter school supporter is not the same as promoting them as an alternative to regular public schools. The extent to which Trump and his administration will do so is unknown.
One of the only K-12 proposals with any details made by Trump is a $20 billion school choice block grant to pay for low-income students to attend private, charter, magnet and traditional public schools of their choice. If Congress funds it, that could result in more funds to California. But it is far from certain that Congress would approve a program of that size, given that another pledge by Trump is to cut taxes as well as the federal deficit.
One unexpected byproduct of a Trump presidency is that it could relieve some of the tensions and conflicts that have occurred over the past several years between California and President Barack Obama’s Department of Education.
Those conflicts have continued in recent weeks regarding draft regulations drawn up by the department to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act that would, among other things, require states to come up with a single index, score or category to rank schools.
What seems likely is that a Trump administration will be less assertive in exercising federal authority than has been the case with the Obama administration.
“We should expect abdication of almost all federal compliance activity that would constrain state discretion,” said Christopher Edley Jr., president of the Opportunity Institute in Berkeley, who was on the working policy group advising Hillary Clinton on education during the campaign.
The result could be a stronger role for Sacramento in shaping education policy, with less interference from the federal government, said Marshall Smith, former Stanford Graduate School of Education dean and undersecretary of education in President Bill Clinton’s administration.
This hands-off approach will frustrate some civil rights groups and other organizations that have wanted the federal government to ensure that states serve all students, especially students of color, and more actively work to close the achievement gap.
“We expect an even weaker federal focus on K-12 equity and excellence,” Edley said.
One unknown factor is whether Trump and Congress will cut federal Title I funds in their attempts to reduce the federal debt. That could result in reductions in federal dollars to states and, ultimately, districts. These funds support a wide range of services in California, from special education and Head Start and preschool programs to services for migrant children and vocational education. But Kirst predicts that even if this were to happen, it wouldn’t happen in the first year.
“It would take an elaborate congressional process, and he (Trump) has higher priorities,” Kirst said.
Another unknown is what Trump and Congress will do about higher education. A major part of Hillary Clinton’s platform was to provide free higher education in public universities for families with incomes under $85,000, but Trump has made no similar proposal. The Higher Education Act, however, is up for reauthorization, so it is inevitable that
Trump will have to weigh in on a range of higher education issues.
Depending on what he does on immigration, Trump could have a more immediate impact on the large numbers of children in Caliifornia schools who are undocumented, or who have parents or relatives who lack the authorization to work here.
“If the Trump administration follows through on its threats, we will have great upheaval in our schools as family members are deported,” said Patricia Gàndara, a UCLA education professor and co-director of The Civil Rights Project there. “The sheer fear of what they (Trump) will do will send many of our kids out of the country even though they are born here.”
What is certain is that several Californians who were in line to play a major role in shaping federal education policies over the next four years won’t be doing so. Ann O’Leary, co-founder of the Opportunity Institute in Berkeley, was a senior domestic policy adviser on education matters to Hillary Clinton, for example. Others like Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute in Palo Alto, had been mentioned as a leading candidate for secretary of education, though she had said she was not interested in the post.
But those possibilities are off the table, as education leaders, and Californians in general, contemplate how they to come to terms with a transformed political landscape in Washington, D.C.
This story has been updated to include a reference to the possible impact on immigrant children.
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