Donald Trump made an appearance at Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy on Thursday, where he rolled out a $20 billion block grant proposal that would use existing federal funds to incentivize school choice programs.
“You’ve done such a great job with the education here,” Trump said in his speech at a school that received an ‘F’ and a ‘D’ on two measures of student achievement, according to its 2014–2015 state report card.
Trump laid out a K-12 education plan familiar to many conservatives. He argued the U.S. spends a lot of money on schools — referencing how much large urban school districts spend per pupil — that hasn’t done enough to improve the education system. He said every child should be able to obtain vouchers to private, charter, magnet, and traditional public schools, arguing that a competitive marketplace will force schools to improve. He also criticized teachers unions and advocated for merit pay for teachers.
Most of these statements matched up almost perfectly with statements made by his political adversaries on the Republican side last summer and fall.
In terms of specific proposals, Trump said $110 billion of state funds and $20 billion in existing federal funds would allow for this competitive marketplace. Trump said the $20 billion would be used for block grants that would provide incentives for states to adopt voucher programs and promote more charter schools, private schools, and religious schools. He didn’t say which funds would be redirected toward these block grants.
“But the $20 billion is only the beginning. As president, I will establish national school choice for every child living in poverty,” Trump said. “We want every child to choose the school that is best for them and their family… Any of them, any inner city in America — Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland… will run a pilot program for school choice for every child in that community.”
School choice may sound positive on its face; after all, not many people would oppose the idea that families should be able to choose their school. But teachers unions say these vouchers only divert funds away from struggling public schools and toward schools that don’t properly serve disadvantaged students.
And data from states across the country shows that students who use vouchers don’t necessarily do better academically than students attending public schools. In Milwaukee, for example, students who used vouchers had test scores below those of students attending city public schools, Politico reported. New Orleans students who used vouchers didn’t progress faster academically. And, although the high school graduation rate increased among D.C. voucher students, they didn’t receive better test scores.
And Ohio isn’t the best example of a state that’s benefited from a school choice model — given the fact that its school choice director resigned after he purposely left failing grades off of evaluations of online schools. As Cleveland.com reported, many of these schools are run by Republican donors. The failing grades would have hurt the rating of the oversight agencies as well.
“In Ohio, we’ve seen more than enough of the ‘solutions’ Donald Trump is selling, but we’re not buying,” stated Melissa Cropper, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, in response to Trump’s speech at the Cleveland school. “Unregulated, unaccountable for-profit charter schools — like the one Trump is visiting today — have destabilized our public districts, defrauded taxpayers, and left our kids and educators worse off, not better.”
“Unregulated, unaccountable for-profit charter schools — like the one Trump is visiting today — have destabilized our public districts”
The school Trump visited in Ohio is also connected to an executive who once ran a company known for its dubious practices and mixed results for students. Ron Packard — who currently heads the for-profit company, Accel Schools, that manages the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy — used to run K12 Inc., which runs virtual schools across the country.
These virtual schools, which allow students to learn from home through a computer, tend to have poor records of academic performance and have been accused of dodgy practices such as false advertising, which led to a settlement with the California Attorney General Kamala Harris this summer.
Under Trump’s education plan, the $2.3 billion Ohio receives in education funding from the federal government and $575 million that goes toward Title I funding for low-income students, could be in danger, according to data gathered by the Center for American Progress. As many as 9 million low-income students could lose $15 billion of Title I funding annually.
One thing that is striking about Trump’s proposal is that it acknowledges federal block grants, and thus the Department of Education, are actually needed to improve the quality of education in the U.S., given his previous statements that he wishes to either severely cut or abolish the department. Trump is proposing $20 billion be used for the block grant proposal. The department’s entire budget is $77.4 billion. It’s unclear what Trump thinks should be done with the rest of the education budget.