These new state-level Republican leaders will certainly make major decisions about America’s schools in the next few years. Experts predict more school-choice legislation, greater conflict over education funding, and increased challenges to teacher-tenure laws. While Republicans are not a monolithic block—their priorities will vary from state to state—the country can expect to see certain trends unfold over the next few years.
The states have always controlled education policy in this country; the federal government accounts for only 8 percent or so of all education dollars. Last year’s revision to the law formerly known as No Child Left Behind, the so-called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), consolidated state control even further. Given the Trump administration’s priorities, Kenneth Wong, a professor of education and politics at Brown University, predicted that the federal government would continue to take a backseat to the states.
Pat McGuinn, a professor of political science who specializes in education at Drew University in New Jersey, described the influx of these new state-level Republican leaders, aided by their new powers granted to them from last year’s ESSA legislation, as “a perfect storm.”
While the states will write and pass the laws that directly affect the funding and organization of America’s schools, Trump and his advisers will shape their agenda on the national stage to advocate for those state-level programs. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, for example, might encourage states to expand on initiatives that he spearheaded as governor of Indiana, according to Wong. These include new procedures for measuring student growth—through things like testing—and for holding teachers accountable for student performance. Pence also pushed to increase funding for quality charter schools while shutting down the failing ones, and expanded the state’s school-voucher program.
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With tax cuts a major campaign pledge at the national and state level, Wong believes that states will have less money to spend on schools. “States,” he said, “will have to find creative ways to fund their education priorities.”
And less money for education is likely to mean even more conflict about the allocation of resources. McGuinn predicted that cities and urban centers, in particular, will suffer. In the past, the federal government put pressure on the states to make sure that funding was distributed fairly. Without that pressure, he said, the new Republican leaders who will help write the funding formulas for their states might give less to cities and more to areas with higher number of Republican voters.
“I’m a centrist Democrat. As someone who studies education policy, I’ve always been concerned about equity. In the absence of federal presence on this issue, the states haven’t done a good job on this in the past,” McGuinn said. “It makes me nervous. Money isn’t everything, but when we’re talking about poor schools, less resources to those needy schools concerns me greatly.”