Educational Justice

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This is a collaborative knowledge base; feel free to propose edits/additions that you believe are important for others to know. Contributions will be reviewed and approved based on quality and accuracy.

How You Can Resist
How You Can Resist

  • Call your Senator by dialing tel:844-6-RESIST and tell them to protect the Department of Education from funding cuts.
  • Find out when your Senators and US Representative are holding town halls and other Upcoming Events/Opportunities. Show up and tell them to support equitable funding for education.
  • Click here to find an organization looking for volunteers.

Recent Updates

  • 6/3/17: Elizabeth Warren has called for the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to investigate the resignation of James Runcie. Runcie led the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. His resignation cited Education Secretary Devos’ poor leadership and “numerous management failures” [1].
  • 6/1/17: The Department of Education has launched a new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website. The site includes increased search capabilities, resources, and documents. For more about IDEA, see our Disability Rights page.

Actions Taken by the Federal Government
Laws Proposed by Congress

Legislation that Supports Equity and Justice

  • S.620 The Community College to Career Fund Act would create partnerships between community colleges and employers to train Americans for jobs in high-demand industries. These include healthcare, clean energy, advanced manufacturing, and information technology.

  • H.R.1880 / S. 806 The College For All Act would establish a partnership between federal and state governments to cover the full cost of college tuition for families earning under $125,000 per year. It would also make community colleges completely tuition-free, cut student loan rates, and allow Pell Grants to be used for non-tuition fees such as books and housing.

Harmful Legislation

  • H.R. 610 repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This repeal limits the authority of the Department of Education and establishes a voucher program. It would also overturn the requirement that school lunches increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy while reducing levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat.

  • H.R. 899 abolishes the federal Department of Education.[2]

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


Proposed changes to education rely heavily on school vouchers, "publicly funded scholarships that students may use for private-school tuition." These programs claim to give parents and students better choices than public schools. [3] However, 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.[4] Few charters perform better than low-performing traditional public schools . Vouchers would also give taxpayer money to religious schools, because most private schools are religiously affiliated. [5]

Trump/GOP Agenda

  • Trump's educational program would encourage more students to attend charter schools, which are 16% more likely to suspend students than non-charter schools.[6]
  • Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has shown enthusiasm for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. During his campaign, President Trump proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program.[7]
  • High-performing charter school networks stayed away from Michigan during that state's Davos-led push for charter schools. Without state regulation, the school market was seen as unstable. [8]
  • Check our Disability Rights page to read how voucher programs negatively impact students with disabilities.

Recent Updates

  • President Trump's proposed budget includes deep cuts to public education in favor of school choice. The plan cuts a popular student loan forgiveness program as part of a $10.6 billion reduction in federal education funding. [9]

Students with Disabilities

Every child with a disability has a right to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Supreme Court has defined FAPE to mean special education and related services that “(A) have been provided at public expenses, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the State involved, and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education plan (IEP). Appropriate IEPs are “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.”[10]

In March 2017, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District was decided by the Supreme Court. In an 8-0 finding, the Court determined that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a child’s individualized education plan (IEP) “must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances.” Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the opinion, made it clear that “for children fully integrated in the regular classroom, this would typically require an IEP ‘reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.’” He also said that that “the goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” The Court rejected the “merely more than the bare minimum" (or de minimis) test applied by the Tenth Circuit. Instead, they ruled that schools are required to show that an “IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.” [11]

Trump/GOP Agenda

Budget Deal

Congress and the Trump administration have come to an agreement for a budget that funds the federal government until this fall. Items included in the area of education include(s):[13]

  • $9.3 billion for Head Start, which is $85 million more than the 2016 level.
  • $250 million for Preschool Development Grants, which is the same as the 2016 level.
  • $12 billion for Special Education state grants (IDEA), which is $90 million more than the 2016 level.

Transgender Students

Recent Updates

  • Trump has rescinded Obama-era protections for transgender students under Title IX. This means 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. [14]

Civil Rights

Recent Updates

  • The House of Representatives and Senate have voted to repeal parts of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA was enacted by President Obama with wide bi-partisan support. The Act expanded collaboration on testing and civil rights between the federal and state governments. After President Trump approves the repeal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will have broad new power over our public education system.[15]
  • Candice Jackson was named as the deputy assistant secretary to the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights. Until someone is formally chosen and confirmed by the Senate to lead the OCR, Jackson is effectively in charge. Notably, Jackson wrote an op-ed against affirmative action for the student newspaper while at Stanford. [16]

Post-Secondary Education and Federal Student Aid

Trump/GOP Agenda

  • 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. [17] The plan was criticized by the GOP for being "left of Obama." [18]. Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank Demos, said of Trump’s student loan 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.” [19]
  • Trump’s student loan plan was further criticized due to the effects it would likely have on Title IX regulations and the Education Department of Civil Rights. [20] Both universities and the Office of Civil Rights would face cutbacks for Title IX. Adopted in 1972, Title IX 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" It is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights.[21] 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.[22]

Recent Updates

  • In April 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a memo that rolled back the Obama administration's student loan protections. Obama's memos required the Federal Student Aid Office to help borrowers manage their debt. These changes will likely increase the risk that borrowers will fail to pay back their loans due to lack of information or assistance and thus face harsh penalties. [23]
  • 21 state Attorneys General (AG) have sent a letter to the Department of Education opposing the student loan protection rollback. New York AG Eric Schneiderman called the changes "shameful" and said "We should be looking for ways to ease the burden of student debt, not enabling the student loan servicing industry to manipulate and exploit students."[24]
  • Citing "privacy concerns," the IRS and Federal Student Aid shut down the Digital Retrieval Tool (DRT) used to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is a necessary first step for college students seeking financial aid, and the DRT simplified the process by automatically entering taxpayer data. While the form is offline, students will have to manually enter tax data in order to see if they qualify for aid. [25]
  • The budget to fund the government through fall 2017 includes $22.5 billion for Pell Grants, which is the same as the 2016 enacted level. When combined with mandatory funding, these discretionary funds enable the maximum grant to increase to $5,920, an increase of $105 in the 2017-2018 school year. The bill reinstates year-round or summer Pell grants, which is estimated to provide one million students an additional Pell grant of, on average, $1,650. [26]

Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy
Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shrank the scope of federal authority, particularly with regard to designing and implementing accountability systems.[27] However, the Secretary of Education remains responsible for approving accountability plans devised by the states.[28] The Secretary of Education cannot require states to adopt certain policies in order to receive flexibility from federal law.[29]

Less than 9% of the estimated $600 billion spent annually on education comes from the federal government.[30] In order for vouchers to be a implemented as an alternative to public schools, states would have to kick in $110 billion.[31] Given the limited power of the Secretary of Education, she would have to find a way to incentivize states to do this.[32]

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.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35] 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.[36] 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.[37]