Editorial: Bring attention and respect back to public education

A+private+school+student+showered+in+money+is+juxtaposed+with+a+public+school+student+shrouded+in+darkness%2C+highlighting+the+differences+in+the+Trump+administration%27s+take+on+public+education.

Epic Staff

A private school student showered in money is juxtaposed with a public school student shrouded in darkness, highlighting the differences in the Trump administration's take on public education.

Epic Staff

In President Donald Trump’s Feb. 4 State of the Union address, he introduced a policy toward education that seems positive at first glance, but will in truth have dire effects on public schools across the country.

Trump spoke of his new nationwide opportunity scholarship programs as great strides toward better education for millions of students. Yet in his interspersed mentions of education, his two references to “failing government schools” stood out. In his first mention, he praised the ability of opportunity scholarship programs to save students “trapped in failing government schools.” He used the phrase again as he promoted a congressional bill, the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act, which his administration is trying to pass, because, as he claims, “no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.” 

Trump represents the national government, so his depiction of government schools as failures reflects poorly on him and the government, and is especially out of place in a speech celebrating his administration’s main achievements. His statements imply that the government has possibly started to give up on public education, refocusing its attention on removing students from a bad school system rather than reforming it. It also seems that the government is investing money that could go toward improving public education as a whole into providing a better education for a small group of students. Though Trump’s statements on education may have intended to inspire confidence for education in the nation and school communities, they raise doubts about the administration’s priorities and whether its policies truly advance the quality of American education.

While public education is a shared responsibility between federal, state and local governments, the federal government has great sway on the attitude of the general public. From the start of his presidency, some of Trump’s tweets have shown that he views the American public education system largely as a failure and supports “school choice,” the idea that students should have the ability to choose where they go to school.

Trump’s careless comments in this address and in the past, as well as his previous educational policies, will negatively affect people’s perception of public education. His son Donald Trump, Jr. has also expressed dismissive attitudes toward the public system while representing his father; at a recent Trump campaign rally, he denounced the country’s “loser teachers,” whom he claimed to be “indoctrinating” students with socialist values. These attacks on the integrity of public school educators tear down the very system that the president has a responsibility to strengthen and protect.

Many believe that the Trump administration’s poor choices in regards to public education began when he appointed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in 2016. DeVos had no professional experience in education, and all of her children had attended private schools. As a result, many people argued she was not fit for her new role. Arguably, this began the trend away from support for public education.

Proposed budget cuts have also demonstrated disinvestment in the public system. Trump has consistently tried to trim the Education Department’s budget. He sought a 13.5 percent cut for the fiscal year 2018 and a 5 percent cut for the fiscal year 2019. Each time, DeVos supported Trump’s request but Congress rejected the proposals. 

In pursuit of “school choice,” Trump has been recently pushing for the Education Freedom and Scholarship Act, which would create a program that provides underprivileged students with better education and financial aid. The program would allocate $5 billion for tax credits for voluntary donors who contribute money to eligible scholarship-granting organizations.

Though it does give some public school students better opportunities, the Education Freedom and Scholarship Act disregards the public education system itself. The money that goes toward tax credits for donors could be used to improve public education in poorer schools. This proposed system would draw only a small group of students out of a bad system, avoiding the larger problem of systemic poor public education. 

“He’s promoting the private option, but actually he’s also devaluing public education by implicitly calling it a cause that is not worth the federal government’s time because the bill provides $5 billion, and the entire budget of the Department of Education only $68 billion,” said Junior State of America officer Kanav Tirumala. “That’s 7 percent of the Department of Education’s budget of going to private schools when instead they should be going to bolster the public education options that we have now, or reducing the socioeconomic barriers that those same low income students would need to succeed at the government schools.”

In recent years, the nation has seen further implementation of “school choice” legislation similar to the proposed Education Freedom and Scholarship Act. The created state programs also use “tax-credit” scholarships to send eligible students to private school. 

“I think the act could really hobble [public education reform] quite a bit, because it would say for the government that this is the route we chose to take, and this is how we’re going to do it in the future,” said Library Media Teacher Amy Ashworth.

Though reforms still need to be made in many underprivileged schools, public education still holds great importance. Conditions in public schools have been an important indicator of both the government’s performance and its investment in equal opportunity for its youth. 

The direction any administration takes in regards to education must be examined carefully. Young voters, especially public high school students and recent graduates, have an obligation to carefully consider recent policies toward public education and to cast their ballots in accordance with the progress they wish to see.

*The Epic staff voted 33-0 in favor of this stance, with 5 staff members abstaining.