President Donald Trump has fallen far short of fulfilling his pledges regarding child care, school choice and college affordability outlined in his “100 day action plan to Make America Great Again.”
On the campaign trail, he issued a “Contract with the American Voter,” which he signed, leaving a blank space for “your signature” – the American voter.
“It is a contract between myself and the American voter – and begins with restoring honesty and accountability, and bringing change to Washington,” Trump wrote.
“I will work with Congress to introduce the following broader legislative measures and fight for their passage within the first 100 days of my administration,” he declared in the contract, outlining 10 pieces of legislation.
That included the School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, which in Trump’s pre-election vision, would “redirect education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice.” It would also “end the Common Core and bring education supervision to local communities, and expand vocational and technical education, and make two- and four-year college more affordable.”
But 100 days into his administration, there is no sign of legislation along those lines. Also on the absentee list is the Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act he promised that would “allow Americans to deduct child care and eldercare from their taxes, incentivize employers to provide on-site child care services, and create tax-free dependent care savings accounts for both young and elderly dependents, with matching contributions for low-income families.”
The only nod to child care came this week when his one-page tax reform proposal included a pledge to “provide relief for families with child and dependent care expenses.” But that mention came without any details as to what kind of relief Trump has in mind. In fact, it was far less detailed than the child care plans he presented during the campaign, prompted by his daughter Ivanka.
“The name of the game is uncertainty,” said Emily Penner, a professor at UC Irvine’s School of Education. Part of the problem, Penner said, “is that we have a secretary of education who does not have a lot of experience and is trying to get a better lay of the land before we see some more official policies, or legislation. They are in a data collection mode.”
Her comments were echoed by John J. Pitney, Jr., the Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College. “It’s mostly a vacuum,” he said. “Trump has barely started on education policy, in part because he doesn’t know anything about it.”
“Benign neglect” was how Albert Jones, a professor of education administration at the California State University at Fullerton, characterized Trump’s approach to education policy.
“What I’ve been seeing since the start of the administration in all areas that I would consider to be domestic public policy around support or services such as health care, housing, education – that doesn’t seem to be a motivator of the Trump administration,” he said. “They don’t see that that’s their real charge.”
Jones predicted that “as far as education is concerned, there’s not going to be a policy around education,” mainly because Trump doesn’t believe that the federal government has a role to play in education. “He operates from the assumption that anything that’s public is probably bad, and anything that’s private is probably good.”
In an interview with Associated Press White House correspondent Julie Pace, Trump explained why most of his 100-day plan has not come to fruition by saying that other “things came up,” and that he shouldn’t be held accountable for what he promised. He also argued that the plan wasn’t actually his plan, saying “somebody” put out “the concept,” disregarding that his signature is present in bold on the contract, and it was prominently displayed on his website (and still is).
As the Washington Post’s Fact Checker points out, the “somebody” who issued the contract was not a nameless campaign official, but Trump himself. In a major speech at Gettysburg on Oct. 22, two weeks before the election, Trump described each legislative promise, including the one on school choice.
Here is Trump’s exchange with Pace:
AP: You did put out though, as a candidate, a 100-day plan. Do you feel like you should be held accountable to that plan?
TRUMP: Somebody, yeah, somebody put out the concept of a 100-day plan. But yeah. Well, I’m mostly there on most items. Go over the items, and I’ll talk to you …
AP: So in terms of the 100-day plan that you did put out during the campaign, do you feel, though, that people should hold you accountable to this in terms of judging success?
TRUMP: No, because much of the foundation’s been laid. Things came up. I’ll give you an example. I didn’t put Supreme Court judge on the 100 (day) plan, and I got a Supreme Court judge.
At least Trump can’t be accused of inaction solely on children and education. As the Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted, of the 60 promises listed in his 100-day action plan, “he has kept five and broken five. Eleven other promises have been launched, two are stuck and one resulted in a compromise. He has taken no action on 36 promises – 60 percent of them.” The Post awarded Trump four “Pinocchios,” its highest ratings for falsehoods.
“We relied on Trump’s ‘Contract with the American Voter’ because, given that it had his signature, we figured there would be little chance he would try to distance himself from this set of promises. Apparently we were wrong,” the Post’s Fact Checker wrote.
UC Irvine’s Penner did point out that despite not following through on his pledges, Trump has had an impact on schools. He signed the repeal of the regulations drawn up by the Obama administration for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which she said will have an impact on the accountability plans every state is required to submit to the federal government under the act. She said that Trump’s immigration enforcement policies will also have an impact. “There are a lot of kids who are really scared,” she said.
As to possible future impacts, Bruce Fuller, a professor in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, said that Trump has proposed slashing federal education spending in a way “that would cripple districts and may eliminate slots for Head Start preschoolers.” If House Republicans were to abolish Obamacare, that would “blast a multibillion dollar hole in California’s own budget, which would require Gov. Brown to reduce school spending.”
Erin Gabel, deputy director of First 5 California, an advocacy organization focusing on early childhood education, lamented that Trump has not moved to take on child care in any significant way. “Child care has been a longstanding bipartisan issue, and a lone shared value in the presidential campaign,” she said. “However, this value has not been reflected in the Trump administration’s proposals to date.”
Pitney, a conservative-leaning academic who worked for the Republican National Committee as its research director during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, said it was just as well that Trump has not charged ahead with his promised education agenda. “On balance, the rule of thumb with Trump is the less he does the better,” he said. “The best thing you can say about the last 100 days, at least as of Wednesday, is we haven’t had a nuclear war.”
EdSource reporter Sue Frey contributed to this report.
Thanks for reading.
Can you help sustain our reporting?
Our team of journalists, editors, and fact-checkers do an estimated 440 hours of research every week to bring you the news on California education. That's a lot of work.