By any measure, last night was a tough night for pro-education reform Democrats. Defying expectations and the polls, Republican Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. The implications for public education are unclear.
Both houses of Congress remain under Republican control at a time when federal oversight of public education and protections for children at risk have been weakened. Under the new federal education law, the Trump administration will review and approve state accountability plans in the Spring but is likely to give states lots of flexibility to hold themselves accountable. While some states will set a high bar, others will retreat.
Trump opposes the Common Core State Standards but has little power to change them beyond the bully pulpit. Although most states have come to terms with the standards and are moving forward, Trump’s election may embolden a few more states to repeal or rewrite them.
Democrat Hillary Clinton vowed to expand pre-school programs and tackle college debt, but Trump has said little about either issue. As with most education issues, he is likely to leave it in the hands of states, which have shown little political will to address either one.
Trump is a champion of school choice but voters soundly rejected charter school expansion in Massachusetts, despite having some of the best charter schools in the country. A Georgia proposal empowering the state to convert low-performing schools to charters also went down to defeat.
At the local level, teachers union-backed school board candidates opposed to charters and choice won elections in Minneapolis. Earlier this year, Nashville also rejected pro-charter candidates for its school board.
On the other hand, Oakland, New Orleans and Indianapolis elected pro-school choice school board candidates. Indiana also replaced Democratic State Superintendent of Education, Glenda Ritz, with a pro-school choice Republican. Indiana also replaced outgoing Governor and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence with a pro-school choice Republican.
Zephyr Teachout, a favorite of the unions who rose to prominence in the New York’s opt-out movement, lost to a pro-school choice Republican in her bid for an upstate New York seat in Congress.
With nearly 10 million students opting out of traditional public schools for private or public charter schools or homeschooling, parent demand for choice and public support remains high. While the federal government under Trump will probably boost funding for new charter schools, the real action will likely be at the state level where Republican-led states will expand voucher and tax-credit programs that allow public dollars to help pay for private schools.
Voters in North Dakota and Oregon approved more education spending, while Oklahoma, which has some of the lowest teacher salaries in the country, rejected a proposal to raise teacher pay. California is restoring bilingual education in the face of efforts to require more non-English speaking students to learn in English.
It’s too soon to say what the 2016 election means for public education but if there is one driving theme, it is local control. States’ rights won a big victory. Kids’ rights to a quality education, on the other hand, mostly didn’t.