Can Trump cure poverty

Donald Trump's education policy - almost as devastating as his failure in the corona crisis


From Knut Panknin


The educational record of Donald Trump and his Minister of Education Betsy DeVos is devastating and was already before the corona pandemic. If there was one constant in education policy in Trump's first and hopefully only term in office, it was that the state should withdraw as far as possible from education - at least in terms of funding and equipping public schools. The privatization of education was the declared goal, with increased public support for private and church schools as well as charter schools. Above all, this should be achieved by expanding educational voucher programs. Donald Trump justified this with the Republican magic formula "choice", ie the alleged "free choice" of the school, solely on the basis of the parents' decision as to what is best for their child. Donald Trump and his administration did not want education to be cheaper or even free of charge, but to make it easier to finance privately. This ostensibly should also give children from low-income households expanded educational options. It is not surprising that this missed the reality of life for many Americans. Educational opportunities in the US are still as unevenly distributed as the income gains in recent years.

The chairperson of the US teachers' union AFT commented on the drive for privatization as follows: "Unfortunately, Education Minister Betsy DeVos has not only ignored the public schools, but also actively tried to make them financially worse off and destabilized and then use the effects as a pretext for their privatization."

What Trump's administration actually thinks of better access to education was shown, among other things, in his draft budget. There he proposed cuts worth billions. For the budget year 2021, the education budget should be reduced by 5.6 billion US dollars or 7.8 percent compared to 2020. The only reason the cuts in the current year and in previous years have not materialized is because Congress ignored them. But even without the cuts, public schools are massively underfunded. This can be seen, among other things, in the ailing infrastructure. According to a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office 54 percent of US school districts require aging school buildings to be renovated or replaced. The pent-up need for repairs affects financially disadvantaged children in particular: Already now, around 300 US dollars less per student are being spent on renovation work in school districts with high poverty than in those with low poverty.

The mantra of “less state” had two notable exceptions in the Trump administration: on the one hand, when it came to the question of opening schools in the pandemic and, on the other hand, in relation to the content to be conveyed. Trump and his education minister threatened schools with the withdrawal of public funds in the summer if they did not return to regular attendance classes.

But the content should also be more strictly regulated. In addition to the focus on MINT subjects, classes in American history, civics and with a view to “American exceptionalism” are to be expressly promoted - “Make America Great Again”, as it were, as an educational program. Should school districts actually implement that, it would be another indictment and a giant step back in time.

Donald Trump never understood that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of the summer were not an attack on the institution of the police, but a declaration of war on institutional racism. The BLM movement is the most serious attempt to date to critically examine structural racism in the 21st century and the broadest, peaceful protest movement the country has seen in its history. Instead of seeing the moment as an opportunity to tackle a social problem that has been around for too long, Trump reaches into the clothes box of authoritarian states and wants schools to convey a glorified view of history. The history of slavery is played down in too many curricula and books, especially in school districts in the southern United States. For example, there is talk of “workers” who came to the country from Africa or teachers ask their students to name the “positive aspects” of slavery.

In order to make the country fairer and to initiate a healing process, the next generation must be conveyed to the real extent and the existing consequences of slavery - no American exceptionalism à la Donald Trump, which denies any critical examination of the darker chapters of US history "Treason" or "sedition" denigrated.


On November 3, US voters will also decide on the future of their children's education. One can only wish the country that a new beginning will be possible there under new leadership.



Knut Panknin is program coordinator in the Friedrich Ebert Foundation office in Washington, DC.