Jen Walmer: Trump’s “school choice” ideas are dangerous

2016 Election

October 3, 2016

A condensed version of the below post was originally featured as a Letter to the Editor in the Denver Post.

By Jen Walmer, DFER Colorado State Director

The idea of Donald Trump and his supporters claiming the mantle of school choice is frankly stunning – and, as a reform-minded pro-public school choice Democrat, horrifying.

Let’s be clear.  What Donald Trump and his supporters like Ken Witt are trying to pawn off as “school choice” bears zero resemblance to the progressive educational options and school choice policies that are working for our kids here in Colorado.

Public school choice is a critical, progressive policy priority championed by President Obama and supported by Secretary Clinton that has expanded new, high-quality educational opportunities to thousands of Colorado’s children. Public school choice fundamentally works because it helps strengthen all public schools in our state and is designed to level the playing field for our most vulnerable students.

Yet, Trump’s so-called plan would undermine everything that we’ve worked so hard to build and derail our core mission of providing every child in Colorado – and across the country – with equitable access to the world-class public education they both need and deserve.

Donald Trump is saying he will gut $20 billion in federal education funding – nearly 30% total education budget – and send it back to the states, diverting funds from all public classrooms (both traditional and charter schools) with zero oversight or support from the Department of Education, which he plans to eliminate.

When you do the math, which we can all safely assume Trump hasn’t done, that pans out to an allocation of  $2,000 per student.  That’s nowhere near enough to give our kids the opportunities they deserve, and it will have a particularly damaging impact on our poorest communities who can’t afford to make up the difference.

Our kids and families would be looking at fewer choices, less resources, larger class sizes, and a bankrupt education. Our schools would be left without funding, without any modicum of accountability, and without the standards that help make our kids competitive in this global economy. Not to overstate the case, but it would be chaos and American public education would be about as valuable as a degree from Trump University.

The one thing I agree with Ken Witt on is that one size does not fit all when it comes to our kids’ education. I’m incredibly glad that his daughter was able to find a public charter that suited her needs, while another child thrived at the district school.

That’s great!

But, Witt’s experience will not be a reality in Trump’s America. Instead, Trump would rather torch the rulebook and wipe his hands clean of any responsibility for our kids’ futures.

That’s not the answer here in education – or when it comes to any of the enormous issues that our country faces on a daily basis.

The fact is that we need a president who will fight for our kids and will do the hard work of finding meaningful and sustainable solutions that strengthen our public schools – not gut funding and abdicate responsibility. We need a president who sees every child’s inherent potential and wants to nurture it – not defraud them of their futures. We need a president with the vision to understand that we are stronger together – not divided against one another because of where we come from, what we look like, or how we choose to pray.

Hillary Clinton is a proven champion for our kids and is the only candidate equipped to lead our kids and our great country to new heights. She has a running start, thanks to the tireless work of the Obama administration, and we look forward to helping the Clinton administration further truly progressive public school choice policies.

Don’t let Trump or his flacks sell you a bill of goods – our kids and their futures are too important.