You really don’t appreciate a free public education until you’ve had it taken away. The President’s plan to reform the U.S. educational system creates a serious problem for millions of African Americans, who rely on public schools to educate their children.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education nominee, showed us just how little she knows about federally funded programs and public schools, having never attended one herself, when she spoke at her confirmation hearing on January 17.
According to American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, DeVos “makes it loud and clear that [Trump’s] education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”
If the Senate approves DeVos on January 31, newly enacted laws will do away with the current funding formula used to distribute funds to public schools.
It’s no secret that public schools were first created in this country for underprivileged white families who could not afford to hire a home tutor or send their kids to private school. Massachusetts was the first state to offer public schools in the 1840’s. New York was the second state to require that all children attend elementary school in 1853. By 1918 all states in the union followed suit.
What about the Black Child?
That was great for Whites but for the next 38 years, public schools were unequal due to the Separate But Equal Law of the land, which was later proved to not be equal at all. Because children were required to attend the school in their neighborhood, it was fairly easy for the federal government to figure out how to stunt Black schools when it came to funding textbooks, buildings and grounds, and transportation.
Children in Black neighborhoods received a lower quality of services and materials. Even the textbooks in Black schools were old and worn, passed down from the white schools. Black children were forced to walk miles to school as White children passed them by on the school bus. The contributions of local taxpayers to the public school district is determined by the wealth of the community, which meant that schools in poorer neighborhoods generally received less funding from the community as well.
It wasn’t until 1954 when Thurgood Marshall won equal schooling for all people of color with the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown V. Board of Education, thereby opening public schools to children of all races and allowing Black children to integrate into white schools.
Then in 1980, the U.S. Department of Education was created under President Jimmy Carter to enforce the civil rights of all students and to provide equal access to education. Today, the Department also writes policies regarding federal financial aid for all levels of education including student loans for college students, and oversees the distribution and oversight those funds.
Since 1980 the cost of education has skyrocketed. In the 1980-81 school year, the per pupil expenditures were $6,182. Ten years later, it jumped to $8,678 per pupil. Today the federal government spends $11,600 per pupil. That totals $584.4 billion allocated to public schools this year alone.
What does Trump plan to do with all of this money?
Trump’s education plan allows for students to use government vouchers to attend religious schools, a flagrant disregard of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Speaking on the Muslim Ban, Trump said, “Christians would be given preference.” With that being said, it is hard to believe that there will be any level of equality when distributing these billions of dollars to religious schools.
With funds leaving public school districts, millions of students with special needs will be left of out the equation, forced to suffer the dire consequences of low pupil expenditures. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 children with learning disabilities are entitled to receive special education services. Private schools find creative ways to turn these students away by either requiring an aptitude test or by not providing transportation services.
Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Taxpayer distribution to such institutions is a clear flaw in Trump’s federal spending formula.