Educational Justice

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Recent Updates
Recent Updates

  • 2/23/2017: New research suggests that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The Trump administration has proposed a new $20 billion voucher program and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has long been a supporter of vouchers. [1]
  • 2/22/2017: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Michigan girl with cerebral palsy who wants to sue school officials because they refused to allow her bring a service dog. The court found that federal disability laws could allow Ehlena Fry to pursue her case in court without first exhausting the administrative process. [2]
  • 2/22/2017: A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that most states do not have estimates of the costs of tax credits, deductions and exemptions for saving and paying for college. These tax benefits save families and individuals billions of dollars, but there is no clear evaluation of their impact on state budgets or higher education. [3]
  • 2/22/2017: The Department of Education and Department of Justice filed a letter with the Supreme Court withdrawing an Obama-era guideline for non-discrimination policies for transgender students. This guidance interpreted Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 to mean that schools "must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity." Withdrawing this guidance means that it will be up to school districts or state boards of education to determine non-discrimination policies, including what restrooms or locker rooms students must use, as well as which sports teams they are eligible to play on. [4], [5]

How You Can Resist
How You Can Resist

Actions Taken by the Federal Government
Actions Taken by the Federal Government

Legislative Actions

Legislation that Supports Equity and Justice

Harmful Legislation

  • H.J. Res. 57 As part of then ational K-12 law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Department of Education issued a final regulation on school accountability, laying out key guardrails for low-income students, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and Black students.
  • H.J. Res. 57 uses the Constitutional Review Act (CRA) to wipe away the accountability regulation, leaving school districts and states without clarity for how to implement the law's accountability provisions. The CRA also prevents the Department from issuing a "substantially similar" regulation, which potentially prevents the Department from regulating on school accountability for marginalized students. Striking this regulation gives President Trump and Secretary DeVos greater control over the country's schools.


  • House Bill 610 repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, limits the authority of the Department of Education, establishes a voucher program, and overturns the requirement that school lunches increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy while reducing the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat.

  • Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) filed a bill in the House that would abolish the federal Department of Education.[6]

See also the State and Local Pages for state-by-state legislative tracking.

Executive / Administrative Actions

Projected Impact
Projected Impact

  • Vouchers would have the impact of giving taxpayer money to religious schools, because most private schools are religious.[7]
  • Studies show that many school choice programs do not provide enough funding to low-income families to provide for the full cost of private school tuition.[8]
  • Students with disabilities are not guaranteed the same protections when using a voucher in a private/religiously affiliated school as they are in a public school, so their education may suffer at private schools.[9]
  • Trump's educational program would encourage more students to attend charter schools, which are 16% more likely to suspend students than non-charter schools.[10] Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, during her confirmation hearing, stated that enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act should be left to the states, seemingly unaware that this is a federal law.[11]
  • There are also serious concerns about whether a Trump administration would enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called the inclusion of students with disabilities is “the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.”[12]
  • Trump's Student Loan policy is exceptionally dangerous to civil rights. Due to the high cost of this plan, both universities and the Office of Civil Rights would face cutbacks for Title IX. Title IX is an education amendment adopted in 1972 that states, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance," and is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights.[13] This partnership allowed the White House to increase the efforts of the OCR as well as to focus on campus sexual assault and bring perpetrators to justice.[14]
  • Eliminating or cutting back these departments could result in dropping sexual violence investigations on campus. Mahroh Jahangiri, director of Know Your IX, has said, “Our biggest worry is that a Trump Department of Education just simply doesn’t do enforcement work." If pending sexual violence investigations are dropped, she said, it would be “an immense setback for student activists and survivors.”[15]
  • Withdrawal of the Obama-era guidance for protections for transgender students under Title IX would mean that students could be required, under the authority of state or local school boards, to use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond with their biological gender rather than their gender identity. It would also limit students' eligibility to play on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. It does still allow school boards to implement their own protections, and permits individuals or advocacy groups to appeal to federal courts if a transgender student's rights have been violated. [16]

Trump / GOP Strategy
Trump / GOP Strategy

  • Donald Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has never worked in education and was instrumental in killing a bill in Detroit that would have provided oversight and regulation to its charter schools.[17] This has led to 80% of the state's charters operating for profit, with schools constantly opening and closing.[18] Few charters perform better than low-performing traditional public schools do, and high-performing charter school networks stayed away from Michigan because of how unstable the school market is absent regulation.[19]
  • In her confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to agree with Senator Tim Kaine's statement that all schools receiving federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards.[20]
  • Secretary DeVos has shown enthusiasm for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, and during his campaign President Trump proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program.[21] This proposal is problematic because it would require cutting other parts of the federal education budget, most likely the Title I program. Title I provides financial assistance to local education agencies (LEAs) and schools with high percentages of low-income students.[22] Trump, like Republicans Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney, supported "Title I Portability," which would allow Title I funds to "follow" students to private or charter schools, but he proposed cutting funds by limiting the vouchers to students in poverty (the program currently covers families up to 185% of the federal poverty line).[23]
  • In terms of higher education, Trump has proposed a Student Loan Policy that has been described as similar to what the Obama administration already put in place. This plan states that repayment would be capped at 12.5% of students' income, and that debt would be eliminated completely after 15 years. This plan was not made public until October 13, 2016, only a few weeks before the election.[24] The plan was criticized by the GOP for being "left of Obama,"[25] and it was further criticized due to the effects it would likely have on Title IX regulations and the Education Department of Civil Rights.[26] Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank Demos, said of the plan, "Trump is essentially trying to deal with the effects of the student loan problem by proposing a new policy somewhat similar to what we have already. But his diagnosis of the root causes are misaligned and incorrect.”[27]
  • Secretary DeVos may have also conducted business dealings with a student debt collection agency.[28]

Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy
Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shrunk the scope of federal authority, particularly with regard to designing and implementing accountability systems.[29] However, the Secretary of Education remains responsible for approving accountability plans devised by the states.[30] The Secretary of Education cannot require states to adopt certain policies in order to receive flexibility from federal law.[31]

Less than 9% of the estimated $600 billion spent annually on education comes from the federal government.[32] In order for vouchers to be a implemented as an alternative to public schools, states would have to kick in $110 billion.[33] Given the limited power of the Secretary of Education, she would have to find a way to incentivize states to do this.[34]

Local public schools stand to lose money through voucher programs, and parents will likely be concerned about cuts to their schools' budgets. In 2009-10, more than 56,000 schools around the country benefited from Title I dollars, including school districts in every state in the country.[35] While people will argue about whether putting money into vouchers qualifies as "cutting spending on education," polling indicates that most people do not want cuts to education spending.[36] Roughly half of all nonfederal education funding comes from local property taxes raised by more than 13,000 local school districts, all of whom would have to be on board with a voucher program.[37] Additionally, teachers' and administrators' unions typically oppose voucher schemes and will likely oppose any Trump administration effort.

Title I Portability faces several hurdles that prevent it from being enacted immediately. 38 states currently have constitutional amendments, called Blaine Amendments, that prohibit federal funding from going to religious schools.[38] Turning Title I funds into portable vouchers would provide students with approximately $538 each, while private school tuition in the US averages about $11,000 per year.[39]

Past Updates
Past Updates

  • 2/17/2017: The Kentucky Senate unanimously approved a bill that would repeal the Common Core standards in that state. The bill also establishes an intervention process for low-performing schools and for reviewing classroom academic standards.[40]
  • 2/17/2017: In an interview with Axios, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that with regard to the federal education budget, "There's clearly an opportunity to slim down the department in some ways." She also reiterated her support for private schools, virtual schools, and charter schools. Notably, DeVos mentioned the federal government's role in implementing desegregation and ensuring gender equality in schools in the past, but stated that she "can't think of any" areas where the federal government might need to intervene in education policy today.[41]
  • 2/10/2017: During her first visit to a DC public school, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was physically blocked by protesters from entering the building. She eventually entered the school by a different entrance. Protesters from the Washington Teachers' Union gathered outside the school, but were not among those blocking the entrance.[42]
  • 1/31/2017: The Cleveland school district in Mississippi has dropped its challenge to a federal desegregation order. Cleveland, Missippi, has long maintained two high schools—the majority-black Eastside High School and majority-white Cleveland High School. In May, a federal judge found that Cleveland was operating an illegal dual system for its black and white children, having failed after decades to reach the “greatest degree of desegregation possible.” Beginning in fall 2017, all students in Cleveland will attend a single new high school, Cleveland Central.[43]
  • 1/31/2017: President Trump has chosen Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, to head a task force on higher education policy. The goal of the task force is to "identify changes that should be made to the U.S. Department of Education’s policies and procedures."[44]
  • 1/28/2017: A number of school systems across the country have pledged to protect their undocumented students. School boards that have passed such resolutions include Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Denver; Minneapolis; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and El Paso, Texas. Additionally, several colleges, including the University of California system, have adopted resolutions to support undocumented students, and Notre Dame (in Indiana) has passed a "sanctuary campus" resolution, stating that they will not allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, or US Citizenship and Immigration Services to be on campus for enforcement purposes unless required by a warrant.[45]

Betsy DeVos Confirmation

  • 2/16/2017: The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection is proposing an initiative to track student loan industry activities, including private providers, to improve knowledge of the industry and areas that might put consumers at risk.[46]
  • 2/7/2017: Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate in a noon vote. The vote was 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins voted against her confirmation, along with all Senate Democrats and both Independents.[47]
  • 2/6/2017: Senate Democrats announced plans to hold an all-night debate in hopes of delaying the confirmation of Betsy DeVos. Senators are focusing on DeVos's unresolved conflicts of interest and lack of public-school experience in their arguments against her appointment.[48]
  • 2/6/2017: Newsweek spoke out strongly against DeVos's confirmation, arguing that her experience alienates rural states where school choice is less feasible due to long driving distances and limited resources.[49]
  • 2/3/2017: In an early-morning vote, the Senate advanced Betsy DeVos to a final confirmation vote scheduled for Monday, February 6. The vote was 52-48, along party lines.[50]
  • 2/1/2017: Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine declared their intent to vote against Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. If the vote otherwise falls along party lines, this raises the possibility of a 51-50 split in the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.[51][52]
  • 1/31/2017: The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved Betsy DeVos's nomination to lead the Department of Education. The vote was 12-11, along party lines.[53]
  • 1/30/2017: More than 300 state lawmakers have signed a joint letter opposing Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The Republican Super PAC America Rising Squared has begun airing online ads accusing Democrats of "bowing to the will of teachers unions and 'playing politics as usual' with DeVos’s nomination." No GOP senators have indicated that they will vote against DeVos.[54]
  • 1/27/2017: Senator Al Franken indicated in an interview with Rachel Maddow that "there's not going to be one Democratic vote" for Betsy DeVos, and that they are also looking for Republicans to vote against her. Franken joins other senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, who have publicly stated their opposition to DeVos.[55]
  • 1/20/2017: The Betsy DeVos committee vote was delayed by a week, until January 31.[56]
  • 1/19/2017: Recent reporting states that as part of budget cuts, the Trump team plans to cut funding for civil rights, which includes IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) and Title IX enforcement.[57]
  • 1/17/2017: The Senate hearing of Betsy DeVos, Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, took place Tuesday, January 17, after it was postponed because she did not complete an agreement with the independent Office of Government Ethics that outlined a plan to deal with her potential business conflicts of interest. The ethics office still has not completed its review of DeVos—which is required before the office can make any agreement—because as of Monday, January 16, she still has not submitted the required paperwork.[58] During the confirmation hearing, DeVos expressed commitment to the school choice/voucher/charter school movement. DeVos and her husband have been involved in the movement to grow charter schools in Michigan, especially Detroit, which has been criticized as being one of the worst reform efforts in the history of the US.[59] During her confirmation hearing, DeVos was unaware of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) or Title IX, two major federal education programs.[60] DeVos's hearing garnered popular attention because of her refusal to ban guns in schools (at the urging of Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy) because of "grizzly bears."[61]