So far, the Republican nominee for president hasn’t discussed education very often on the campaign trail (perhaps because Trump University, the now defunct operation facing multiple lawsuits from students who say they were scammed, is a liability for him on this issue).
But after Trump’s recent campaign shakeup, his new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said voters can expect to see more policy speeches on the issue. And Trump has begun to address voters of color, whom he has not only ignored up to this point but also denigrated at every opportunity.
Last week, at a rally in New Hampshire, Trump spoke of educational inequities between students of color and white students. “Their policies have produced only more poverty, total joblessness and failing schools,” he said, according to The 74, an education news site. “Every policy Hillary Clinton supports is a policy that has failed and betrayed communities of color in this country… Education, education, education! We are going to bring back great education for our inner cities and for our country.”
How exactly does Trump plan to improve the quality of schools for students of color? It isn’t clear yet — and it’s also a promise that’s directly undermined by some of Trump’s other education policy positions.
Trump says he wants to either cut the U.S. Department of Education — making cuts that he describes as “tremendous” — or abolish it completely, telling Sean Hannity in April that the department “can be largely eliminated.” That would do the opposite of aiding inner city schools. Eliminating the department would take away much-needed resources from the struggling schools that need them the most.
To better understand how this would hurt students of color, you need to understand what the department does.
As the civil rights movement moved forward, Congress passed various legislation protecting people’s civil rights, such as the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That act launched the Title I program, which provides funds to schools with more impoverished students. The Department of Education — which was created under the Carter administration and began operating in the Reagan administration — is responsible for ensuring that struggling schools receive this Title I funding.
Many of the racially segregated city schools Trump refers to have poor conditions, among them mold, severe heat in the summer and cold in the winter, and dead rodents. These schools often don’t have the advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities necessary to build a strong college application. Many large urban school districts are also struggling to pay teachers and secure state funding.
The department also works on the oversight of states and school districts to ensure that they are not violating the rights of their students by providing them with a subpar education. For example, the Office of Civil Rights receives and investigates complaints of discriminatory harassment or exclusionary school discipline.
That has the potential to make a big difference for black students, who receive a disproportionate number of school suspensions and expulsions. We know this because the department keeps track of racially disparate school discipline through data collection. Data collection is an important part of the department’s mission and without it, there would simply be a hodgepodge of data that would be very difficult to rely on for drawing conclusions about the quality of education for students across the country.
Trump can claim to care about the barriers students of color face to receiving a decent education, but until he stops advocating to strip funding from or abolish the Department of Education, his words are empty.