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Update on the GOP Platform II: K-12 Education

November 27, 2017

This is the second of three posts providing an update on the implementation of the GOP’s education platform using Politico’s synopsis of the elements of the 2016 Republican Platform that pertain to education with my assessment of progress made in bold red italics:

— On school choice: Republicans are, unsurprisingly, very supportive of school choice, “especially … innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.” The platform specifically cites the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as “a model for the rest of the country” that should be expanded. “We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions,” the platform says. As noted in multiple blog posts, in virtually every state with GOP legislatures legislation enabling the creation of ESAs has passed and in states where the GOP controls the statehouse the Governors have appointed Commissioners who support deregulated for profit schools and, in some cases, the use of tax dollars to pay tuition to sectarian schools. In those same states, legislatures are enacting bills that undercut union membership. As noted in my original post, affluent communities who are more than willing to pay for their kids to get a good education are unaffected by this shift in funding.

— On testing and the Common Core: Republicans “congratulate” states that have “repealed” the academic standards. And on testing, they find some common ground with Democrats: The platform rejects “excessive testing and ‘teaching to the test’ but supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.” The platform also encourages “instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.” As is often the case, platforms try to have things both ways. In this case, the GOP wants to eliminate “excessive testing” while retaining “strong assessments to serve as a tool. The bottom line on this is that standardized tests are being retained as the primary metric for school success. As for “instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers”, State legislatures are likely awaiting model legislation from ALEC on how to mandate instruction on the constitution and American exceptionalism.

— On teachers: The platform says teachers should be “protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom … Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.” The USDOE is taking steps to encourage tougher discipline in schools, mostly by ignoring civil rights violations that might have resulted in investigations under the Obama administration. The GOP legislators in Washington and across the country continue to introduce legislation that makes teachers at will employees and requires de facto moral codes for teachers.

— On K-12 spending: Republicans say the Education Department has spent more than $2 trillion dollars “with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates.” The platform supports the notion of Title I portability, which Republicans failed to include in a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. “We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them,” the platform says. The GOP budget appears to encourage the creation of “block grants” in lieu of the current format that allocates categorical funds. This approach is being used across the nation as states abandon efforts to ensure “adequate education funding” (see recent post on South Carolina, for example). With no push from USDOE for equity and GOP legislators intent on using the budget to accomplish changes that were not achieved through legislation (i.e. the repeal of “Obamacare”), expect to see funding “following the child” in the future.

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