Our local newspaper, the Valley News, featured an article by Bloomberg op ed writer Paula Dwyer title “Why the US Education Department Never Dies” offering a list of reasons why it would be impossible for the incoming Trump administration to close the Education Department despite his promise to do so. After seven years of Arne Duncan’s leadership, I’m not so sure I would be unhappy with the collapse of the department, but since it’s very existence serves to keep public schools in the some kind of national spotlight closing it might be read as a signal that public schools matter less. After reading her article which was presumably written to make the case for the USDOE’s continued existence, though, I was completely unconvinced.
At the outset of the list she included a series of functions that could be transferred to other departments. Here’s my take on how the functions of USDOE could be delegated or, in the case of student loan oversight, eliminated completely:
- Roughly 1/3 of its budget is for Pell Grants, which Senator Cruz indicates could be managed by the Treasury Department.
- The department oversees the $1.3 trillion in student loans, and from many reports does a poor job of it. In a Trump administration it isn’t hard to imagine that being transferred to another Cabinet post or agency and deregulated… or better yet, handed over to the banking industry. The banks made astute decision on housing loans (sic), let them decide who receives student loans and determine what the rates will be.
- Roughly 1/5 of the USDOE budget is for Title One funds, which Mr. Trump could conceivably give directly to the states to launch voucher programs. His HHS Secretary, you know, Mr. Price who wants to defund Planned Parenthood, would assume oversight of this program if oversight was necessary. Or maybe the AG, Jeff Sessions who sees Special Education as a complicated boondoggle, could enforce the use of the $20,000,000 sent to the states for Mr. Trump’s voucher plan.
- As noted in earlier posts, the OCR adjudicates discrimination cases that occur within the context of public and post-secondary education. These could easily be shifted to the AG’s office. Indeed, this would make perfect sense given the Republican platform calls for local police forces to handle more of the Title IX harassment cases at colleges.
At the end of the article, Ms. Dwyer concludes that even though “conservatives see the Education Department, like Obamacare, as a symbol of federal intrusion and wasteful spending”, she believes it will safe during the Trump regime. Why?
…it’s an open question whether DeVos would really devote much time to getting rid of her Cabinet-level job, especially when she has the bully pulpit she has always wanted to push vouchers, charters, school choice and other causes that she and her husband, billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, have long championed.
Some of what the department does meshes with the agenda of Trump and DeVos, including spending $350 million to expand charter schools. If she and the president-elect really want more school choice and voucher programs, isn’t a federal thumb on the scale the best way to push them?
So back to the original question: Will the new Republican president and the Republican Congress finally kill the Education Department? I would bet no.
I tend to agree with this conclusion with one caveat. There is some conjecture that Ms. DeVos will be overmatched by the bureaucracy she is leading and frustrated with her inability to make the kinds of changes she advocated as an outsider. If that happens, it could open the door for Mr. Trump to declare the Department as being dysfunctional and implementing a plan for its dissolution. As I write this I am confident that the Heritage Foundation is dusting off a plan it wrote several years ago that will make that happen.
As readers undoubtedly sense, I have been disheartened by the recent election results and deeply concerned about what they portend for the future of public education. If you share that mindset, I encourage you to read Jacobin’s article “Public Education Can Win”. The article is an edited transcript of an interview between Elizabeth Mahoney and Carlos Rojas Alvarez, the student field director for Save Our Public Schools Massachusetts. Mr. Alvarez partnered with a host of coalitions help defeat Article 2, a proposition funded by billionaire “reformers” that would lift the cap on charter schools, opening the floodgates for privatization. Only 7 years out of high school, Mr. Alvarez looks like a force to be reckoned with. The interview reveals him to be insightful, articulate, and determined… but willing to collaborate with groups some of his colleagues perceive as “enemies”. In sum, he appears to be an astute politician in the best sense of that word. When asked why he believed his relatively underfunded group of student volunteers, parents, and teachers were able to defeat the billionaire privatization advocates at the ballot box, Alvarez offered this hopeful analysis:
Overall, there was a recognition that public services like education need to stay public and need to serve all people. People are not interested in creating special, more elite, more selective, isolated systems of education as a way to address the issue.
That “recognition” required the assembly of a cadre of foot soldiers who knocked on doors, convened forums, and went to great lengths to explain to voters what “choice” and “charter schools” were really about… and it wasn’t about helping poor and disenfranchised children.
When Ms. Mahoney asked about the role the teachers unions played, Alvarez was quick to give them credit, despite the fact that as recently as five years ago his student organization was not on the same page with them.
We were able to see and learn that labor unions, however messy they can be, however much they are on the wrong side of issues — and historically on the issue of race teachers’ unions have often been on the wrong side of history — are essential. Through this connection we saw that we cannot have an educational justice movement without teachers, without the labor union that protects them.
Today I think that anti-union sentiment is changing and we’ve been able to have lots of conversations with other young people about the importance of teachers’ unions and about workers — how people are treated at the workplace.
One of the fundamental pieces of misinformation put out by the charter school movement is that teachers are not doing their jobs well, that teachers’ unions are protecting bad teachers, that their salaries are bloated, that we have to bust the union, fire teachers, and pay them way less.
When people are desperate and can’t see their child succeeding, they turn against the teacher and blame them for the failures of the system. To combat this we’re working to foster conversations that help students develop a class analysis about the importance of supporting and strengthening teachers unions as a way to achieve true educational justice.
Mr. Alvarez’ principled and pragmatic approach needs to spread to the Democrat party. If the party will not embrace the democratic socialist stance of Bernie Sanders, they should at the very least stand up for the workers in the country who are underpaid, overworked, and— in many states— precluded from organizing. Based other support for Bernie Sanders, it appears that many young people have absorbed the message that teacher’s unions were developed for the same reason as unions in coal country and factories: teachers were seeking a living wage and safe and sane working conditions. In addition, and especially given the blacklisting that seems to be emerging, the unions need to protect the free speech for themselves and their students.
I came away from reading this with a ray of hope. I have to believe that there are other young Americans like Mr. Alvarez who are ready, willing, and able to assume the leadership of a movement that will push back against the privatization of public services and the plundering that is besetting our economy on all fronts. Here’s hoping their voices can be heard!
The newspapers the past two days have been full of news about the jobs Mr. Trump saved in Indiana by getting Carrier to pledge to keep one of its factories operating in Indiana. But an op ed piece by Christian Weller in today’s NYDaily News points out the wrongheaded approach Mr. Trump used to save these jobs.
Not all specifics are yet known, but the deal — the fulfillment of a crucial promise made by Trump during his presidential campaign — appears costly. Indiana state government, where Mike Pence is still governor, offered some tax incentives for Carrier to stay. These may well have been sweetened with additional, albeit vaguer, promises of future help from the federal government.
Tax giveaways are politically expedient, but they tend to be wasteful. Even though agreements often promise to put decent jobs first, there is nothing to force companies like Carrier to actually spend the money on jobs rather than on, say, bonuses for executives.
And even if Carrier made an ironclad pledge to keep all those rank-and-file jobs for now, governments have no mechanism to ensure such jobs will stay for a long period of time. This means that Carrier could choose to move the jobs to Mexico next year, and still keep its benefits. This would especially be the case if Trump cannot deliver on his promises of slashing taxes and rolling back regulations, for instance.
Mr. Weller didn’t delve into the “trickle down” effect of the tax incentives and tax cuts that made it possible to retain Carrier. As noted in one of my earlier posts, offering “tax relief” is a losing proposition. In their zeal to seek and retain Carrier’s jobs, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence effectively gave their parent corporation a large sums of money, money that ultimately comes from taxpayers. Mr, Trump and Mr. Pence did this because if they failed to respond to the requests for relief or lost to Mexico in a race-to-the-bottom for wages they could be voted out of office.
Who loses in these “tax relief” efforts? The rank and file tax payers who must backfill the revenues lost when Carrier is given a break on its property taxes and pay for the “incentive package” that Carrier receives— an incentive package that is offered unconditionally. And if the taxpayers DON’T want to see their taxes raised or cannot raise their taxes any higher they are forced to limit public services like the maintenance of roads, the policing of their communities, and– yes– the operation of their public schools.
Mr. Weller explains the impact near the end of his op ed piece:
States already engage in plenty of this corporate welfare. Do we need more of it?
Spending more money on ineffective retention deals leaves less money to invest in good policy. Better uses of the funds would be improving infrastructure, beefing up access to fast broadband and lowering the costs of higher education.
Trump will claim he wants to do all those other things, too — but the public purse is limited. To govern is to choose. America needs more infrastructure spending for good jobs in the future. The Carrier deal and others likely coming down the pike could tie the new administration’s hands.
The business community is watching this scenario VERY carefully…. and if this de facto extortion works for Carrier it will be attempted frequently in the coming months. Here’s hoping Mr. Trump makes better choices on how to spend scarce taxpayer funds in the future.