In the days leading up to Trump’s inauguration, Fusion is highlighting some of the issues most important to you and concrete steps you can take to make sure things like our First Amendment and immigrants’ rights don’t get rolled back. Today, we’ve got you covered on education.
What Trump has been up to:
You’ve heard a lot about how the future of America is inclusive and very brown. And this is true—except for the “future” bit: That diversity is here now, and it’s reflected in the faces of the children in our school system.
According to the most recent U.S. census, about 45% of all school-age children are non-white. For children under the age of five, that number is nearly 50%. This is important context when we consider Trump’s campaign and his failure to address the specific needs of black and brown kids, who suffer disproportionately from a lack of resources and misguided education policy (see: the suspension rates of black and Latinx students compared with their peers). His troubling rhetoric around these kids—interchanging challenges faced by “the blacks” and inner cities, and threatening to deport millions of immigrants without regard to their American-born children—show no consideration of these children as vital to the health of our nation.
Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education also signals a preference for “school choice”—a benign phrasing that would effectively direct more federal money toward privately funded education rather than focusing those resources on reforming and enhancing public schools. As The Atlantic points out, this division exacerbates inequality: It siphons high-achieving and middle-income students from the public school system, concentrating poverty within certain schools and schools districts.
The rising cost of college tuition and dwindling public funds for it have priced a lot of young Americans out of higher education—which is why Trump’s proposal regarding student loan forgiveness are a pretty big deal, especially since it would forgive student loan balances “five to 10 years sooner than the current income repayment plans.” But Trump intends to finance this plan through a reduction in federal spending, and where those cuts could come from isn’t clear yet.
Who’s answering the call:
Teacher unions have vehemently opposed DeVos’ selection—with the country’s two biggest ones, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, penning a joint letter last month condemning Trump’s pick and her lack of experience in, you know, the actual classrooms for which she’ll be crafting and implementing federal policy.
But the battle for fair and equitable schools is fought largely on the local level: through state budgets and decisions about zoning and redistricting. While focusing on nation-wide policy is important—the disastrous effects of No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on standardized testing are a prime example—you can wield a lot of influence simply by focusing on your own community.
How you can help:
There are many avenues you can take to promote and protect affordable, inclusive education. You can mentor students at your local schools or pitch in for classroom supplies. Sadly, school budgets are so strapped that teachers have resorted to crowdfunding to meet the needs of their students. DonorsChoose lets you pick teachers and classrooms around the country to support (if the name sounds familiar, Stephen Colbert recently funded every request in South Carolina on this platform). Develop relationships with local teachers: Ask them what they’re experiencing in their classrooms, what challenges they are facing, and how you can help support them.
Nonprofits like FairTest, which focuses on testing reform, tap you into grassroots campaigns happening in your area (or help you start your own). Brush up on the recommendations from the Michigan Student Study, which looks at “factors that influence students' intellectual responses to issues of racial and ethnic diversity” and ask your school board or state representatives what they’re doing to fulfill their recommendations.
If policy is more your flavor, lobbying your state representatives about their education budget is key. States like North Carolina have damaged the quality of public education, not only by slashing budgets, but by de-incentivizing teachers, refusing to pay them higher wages for advanced degrees, and striking legal safeguards that protect them from being fired for unfair or illegal reasons. You can also donate to the National Coalition for School Diversity, a network of civil rights orgs, university research centers, and state and local coalitions that champions diversity and socio-economic equity our nation’s schools.
Reading list/resource links:
- The Concentration of Poverty in American Schools (The Atlantic)
- Why Talented Black and Hispanic Students Can Go Undiscovered (The New York Times)
- This is Trump's stance on student loans — and it could hurt poor students (USA Today)
- Donald Trump Is "an Existential Threat to Public Schools" (Mother Jones)
- Trump’s plans to make student loans great again (Forbes)
- Does Trump’s education pick want to ‘advance God’s Kingdom’ using schools? (Fusion)
- Michigan Student Study
- National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities
- National Coalition on School Diversity
- Donors Choose
Up next on How to Survive Trump’s America: Come back tomorrow to find out how to support LGBTQ rights under Trump’s presidency.