The two men who ran to be the 46th President of the United States could not be more different in many ways – including their approaches on American education.
President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have very different ideas how the education system in the United States should operate, but no matter who is president, their education policy will greatly influence how the American school system proceeds.
Education has always been an important foundation of America. Education is essential to gain valuable life skills. In 2017, the Trump administration appointed Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. With DeVos’ implementation, school choice has become the main focus of the American education system, pivoting away from the traditional public education model.
School choice provides parents with alternative educational opportunities instead of having their children attend their local public school. The programs underneath school choice include charter schools, voucher programs, public school choice, and virtual school. Charter schools are public institutions but use specialized studies that differ from regular public schools. An example of this is a math or science-focused curriculum.
The voucher program is a scholarship that gives parents money to pay for their children to attend private school. There are currently 18 voucher programs in 29 states across the nation. The scholarships are state-funded with the exception of Washington, D.C. In this district, the federal government provides funds for the program.
Public school choice enables parents to remove their children from their assigned public school and send them to a higher-performing public school. The public school does not have to be within their assigned school district. The virtual school program allows parents to have their children take courses online. The students can take courses exclusively or choose a hybrid model where some classes are at their local public school. This program establishes more flexibility and educational options for both the parent and child.
While Trump is emphasizing local and state funding for these initiatives, Biden requests for federal reinvestment into the public education system. In order to understand how education will be impacted by the results of the 2020 election, here are some key differences between Biden and Trump’s education policies.
Government funding based on very different ideology
Although individual state governments are the primary source of funding for public education, the federal government helps support these funds mainly through the Title I Program.
The Title I Program was created underneath the Secondary Education Act of 1965 to aid low-income public schools.
Tammie Golden, Title I Facilitator for Spann Elementary, recalled that federal funding is allocated based upon a school’s free and reduced lunch population.
“Title funds help us employ other people as interventionists to help our at-risk population. Kids are getting resources and we are making sure that they have something extra above and beyond what you would get on a regular day,” said Golden. “State funds just operate day to day life in school.”
The Title I Program was updated in 2002 underneath the No Child Left Behind Act.
This act further increased federal funding to financially disadvantaged school districts.
In 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act to replace the No Child Left Behind Act.
With the installment of Every Student Succeeds Act, the Title I Program federal spending has been cut back to limit the federal government’s role in public education.
Biden plans to increase federal education funding for low-income schools from $16 billion annually to $48 billion.
Biden proposes that the money should be used on raising teacher’s salaries, implementing nationwide public pre-K programs, and increasing access to Advanced Placement classes in high schools.
Biden says in his education agenda that he will nearly triple Title I funding, which goes to schools serving a high number of children from low-income families.
“This new funding will first be used to ensure teachers at Title I schools are paid competitively, three- and four-year olds have access to preschool, and districts provide access to rigorous coursework across all their schools, not just a few. Once these conditions are met, districts will have the flexibility to use these funds to meet other local priorities. States without a sufficient and equitable finance system will be required to match a share of federal funds.” – Joe Biden
Trump’s plans include increasing up to $5 billion on Education Freedom Scholarships and $2 billion on Career and Technical Education to the already existing budget.
The Education Freedom Scholarship is a part of the voucher program which provides students who would otherwise be going to public school a scholarship to attend private school in their local area.
Dr. Marguerite Archie-Hudson, professor of education and health policy at College of Charleston, commented that though the proposed budget wants to increase programs under school choice, it is not realistic.
“The Department of Education does not have the funding to do so,” Archie-Hudson said.
Archie-Hudson believes that it would be ideal to offer every child an opportunity for school choice, but there will never be enough funding.
The additional proposed funding for Career and Technical Education programs would increase focus on vocational education and training.
Increased federal support for public schools or more resources to privatize education? That is the question.
Throughout Trump’s term, he has supported the privatization of schools.
Even amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic, Trump has backed a plan that will move $5 billion tax dollars from public to private education.
The $5 billion will go toward expanding his Education Freedom Scholarship program.
This scholarship will provide students with school choice and is considered a federal voucher program.
Kate Darby, Vice Chair of Charleston County School Board, believes the voucher program in American schools has flaws.
“The people on the federal level have used the voucher system to give families money to attend private schools,” said Darby. “That’s great, but my argument is that usually the vouchers are not enough to help the families cover the entire cost of sending their children to private school.”
Instead of allowing equal opportunity for all students in public schools, Biden fears that many students will be left behind.
Dr. Archie-Hudson suggested that the voucher program is good in theory, but leaves many disadvantaged students behind.
“DeVos believes that if we give parents money to execute school choice, then their children will be able to go to better schools. A lot of these private and schools are beyond capacity,” commented Archie-Hudson.
There are very limited vouchers available and this disparity “leaves the majority of kids in the communities with no educational support,” said Archie-Hudson.
Investing in career and technical education
While both Trump and Biden agree on investing in career and technical education, each believes it should be achieved in differing ways.
In 2018, Trump reinstated the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.
This act allows for states to use federal funding on more trade and vocational courses.
Darby claimed that the schools should reflect the neighborhoods they are in. For some areas, this may mean that technical education is the best fit for their needs.
“Our integrated schools offer better opportunities for all kids. We cannot have a cookie cutter approach,” said Darby.
Biden advocates for career and technical education by creating partnerships between high schools and local businesses and technical colleges.
Archie-Hudson said Biden is focused on creating nationwide community colleges.
“He has not said much yet about K-12 education. The problem that needs to be addressed is that the pathway to community colleges has to start with K-12,” said Archie-Hudson. “We ought to have community colleges for all, but we cannot get there without K-12.”
What is known about Biden’s stance on K-12 education is that he believes vocational education will engage students and provide them with a path to success.
Teaching American exceptionalism
At a recent White House Conference on American History, Trump referred briefly to one of two tenets listed on his education platform – American exceptionalism.
“We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country,” he said. “We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.”
The idea of American exceptionalism has become a political debate in recent years, though the concept was borne of the idea that America was inherently different from other nations, because its founding was based on liberty, equality before the law, individual responsibility, republicanism, representative democracy, and laissez-faire economics. This beginning, the ideology goes, makes America uniquely qualified to act as the world’s moral leader.
The GOP 2016 platform – which has been adopted for 2020 – describes American exceptionalism as “the notion that our ideas and principles as a nation give us a unique place of moral leadership in the world” and requires the U.S. to “retake its natural position as leader of the free world.”
A primary concern among historian critics is that teaching the “ideology” of American exceptionalism also fosters a sense that the United States and Americans are superior to others along with a tendency to downplay the nation’s racist and elitist past, conceding no wrongdoing along its evolution to a leading global power.
The common belief among different factions is the belief that the United States has attributes that give it a unique responsibility to help make the world a better place. The prevailing examples include stopping Hitler’s Germany, helping prevent Western Europe’s economic ruin following WWII, standing firm against the Soviet Union and communism, supporting democracy across the globe.
The divergence comes over how to tell the story of America’s mistakes – slavery, support for dictators, war, etc.
Since state and local governing bodies determine public school curriculum, it’s unclear what Trump has in mind for implementing American exceptionalism in schools, but it is one of his two education agenda items and could be an important discussion if he takes a second term.
An increasing role for charter schools in American education?
Trump and DeVos are working closely together to expand charter schools across the nation.
Trump’s federal spending on charter schools has increased more than 30 percent since 2017.
Darby reflected on why charter schools were built in the first place.
“Charter schools are originally designed to help school districts that have big bureaucracy get around this element. Instead of slow moving new schools, charters were able to be built quickly but still be public,” commented Darby.
Although charter schools are public institutions, they do not follow exactly the same guidelines as public schools.
“They have to follow the grading scale, but not the curriculum,” said Darby.
Charter schools are operated by a private school board. In order for a charter school to be approved, the school board must indicate what different curriculum they will provide to students than a public school.
With the increase in federal funding for charter schools, Golden claims that it may take away funding for public schools.
“The issue from public teachers is that charter schools take away money from us. We get money based per student, so if these students leave, then we receive less funding,” said Golden.
Biden does not support the expansion of charter schools and believes in reinvesting in public schools to allow all students to receive equal education opportunity.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, education will remain a crucial component for a successful American society.
”And that is why,” Darby says, “we need great local and federal leaders.”