Under President Trump, the federal role in education is set to be drastically curtailed. Last Thursday, Trump proposed slashing federal spending on schools by $9 billion. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has vowed to shrink her agency and return power to local officials, which could mean scaling back civil-rights enforcement. All of these signals may also foreshadow a retreat on school integration.
Integration made a brief return to the national stage last year when President Barack Obama, who had mostly avoided the issue before then, proposed a $120 million grant program in his final budget that would fund local socioeconomic school-integration plans. After that proposal died in Congress, Obama’s education secretary, John King, launched a much smaller version last December. He also used his brief tenure to trumpet the benefits of diversity. “He talked about school diversity in a way that federal officials had not in years and years and years,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic school integration.
Now, even that smidgen of progress has stalled. Trump and DeVos appear to be single-mindedly focused on expanding access to school choice—particularly private-school tuition vouchers and charter schools, which are often highly segregated. Meanwhile, advocates fear that DeVos might abolish the few incentives created by the Obama administration to spur local integration efforts. Either way, any new attempts to curb segregation in the Trump era likely will come from the ground up, with local officials who choose to pursue integration having to make do without much federal support.