It’s shaping up to be a contentious year on the education beat, fueled in part by Donald Trump’s upset victory in the presidential election. For starters, in the weeks and months since his election, his campaign call for expanding school choice has sparked widespread discussion and debate. And while federal policy is often a slow-moving train, it wouldn’t be difficult for the president-elect and the GOP-led Congress to change tracks on many key initiatives enacted by the Obama administration, affecting everything from the recent rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act to school-lunch menus and oversight of for-profit colleges.
Predictions have been stacking up not only from pundits but also journalists, including Goldie Blumenstyk of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Alyson Klein of Education Week, and NPR’s Claudio Sanchez. Understandably, school choice is on almost everyone’s list as a front-burner issue.
It appears unlikely that President-elect Donald Trump can convince Congress—even a Republican-controlled Congress—to shell out $20 billion for school choice, as he promised during his campaign. But by tapping billionaire voucher-advocate Betsy DeVos for education secretary, Trump is making his priorities known. DeVos has long advocated for publicly funded vouchers as a means of helping families pay for private, parochial, or even home-schooling options. Her track record and tactics, particularly in her home state of Michigan, have raised concerns. While her confirmation by the U.S. Senate is likely given that Democrats are in the minority, it’s probably not going to be a smooth ride. (Her hearing was originally set for Wednesday but was rescheduled for next Tuesday.) The nation’s teachers’ unions are among those strongly opposing DeVos, who has no experience in public education or government beyond her lobbying efforts.