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What Homeschoolers Should Expect from President Trump

By Antony Kolenc
Written exclusively for Homeschool World, ©2017 Home Life, Inc., all rights reserved.

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Antony Kolenc



(Photo from JStone / Shutterstock, Inc.)
Against all odds, President Donald J. Trump pulled out a come-from-behind victory over Hillary Clinton by flipping the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and winning the Electoral College. In the process, he won 81% of the white Evangelical vote, 52% of the Catholic vote, 63% of white men, and 53% of white women. He lost the black and Latino votes by smaller margins than Republican presidential candidates in recent elections—taking 8% of the black vote and 29% of Latinos. But he lost the national popular vote handily (thanks largely to California voters), with Secretary Clinton capturing almost three million more votes.

What about the homeschool vote? Support from homeschoolers is not easily measured; however, considering the demographic statistics above, it is likely that a majority of homeschooling families supported Trump. In addition to issues important to all Americans—jobs, the economy, and national security—he campaigned on important themes to home educators. In particular, he talked about returning control of education to the state and local level, as well as expanding school vouchers and ending Common Core.

So what should homeschoolers expect from a Trump Administration?

Support for Homeschooling

There is little doubt that President Trump will support the freedom of parents to educate their children at home. It would be a mistake, however, to say he campaigned heavily on homeschooling issues, or that he even catered to a home education constituency. He often spoke of charter schools; however, his first major mention of homeschooling occurred in September 2016 at the Values Voter Summit put on by the Family Research Council. Identifying school choice as a civil rights issue, he stated, “School choice also means that parents can homeschool their children. Hundred percent.” 1 These are encouraging words, although they do not convey any indication of the legal positions Trump might take on the matter as President.

More specific was the platform of the Republican Party as it headed into its national convention in July with Trump at the helm. Also calling parental educational choice a civil right, one plank of the platform supported “options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools”2 That plank, however, does not legally bind Trump in any way as President. One legal action that Trump might support, however, is the one calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in favor of parental rights. Specifically, the platform stated, “Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.”3 Here, however, the President has no direct power—he would need to rely on Congress to take the lead on such an amendment.

Local Control of Education

During the campaign, Trump sometimes mentioned the idea of breaking the federal hold over education and encouraging more local governance. Some remarks he made, however, reveal a potentially weaker commitment to this cause. For instance, at a CNN-hosted primary town hall in March 2016, Anderson Cooper asked Trump about the “top three functions” of the federal government. In reply, Trump listed education as the third major federal function. But many homeschoolers believe that the federal government should have little or no role in education. Trump’s answer does not necessarily indicate he is not serious about pushing education back down to the state level in some areas. It could simply have been a poorly worded, unreflective answer at the time.

Indeed, Trump often spoke on the campaign trail about creating a 20 billion dollar set of “block grants” at the federal level, to be sent to the states to spend on local education priorities. Ideally, this would deflect funding from the federal level and give local school officials more resources to implement their own state’s education priorities, to include potentially more local support for homeschooling. True to his word, Trump included such a block-grant proposal in his released plan for his first 100 days in office.

Expansion of School Vouchers

Part of President Trump’s 100-day plan includes not only the support of charter schools, but also support for a robust voucher program to enhance school choice. Vice President Pence has some experience in that arena, having overseen the most extensive voucher program at the state level while governing Indiana. Trump’s 100-day plan supports “redirect[ing] education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice,” and “bring[ing] education supervision to local communities.”4

If Trump means what he says, the expansion of a federal voucher program could offset the cost of home education. This could alleviate some of the financial burden that homeschooling brings and that the tax code reinforces. It could attract more parents to give home education a try. Yet some homeschool lobby groups, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), continue to oppose any government program that would provide tax dollars to homeschoolers.

The HSLDA’s opposition to vouchers is based on its belief that “this is outside the constitutional authority given to the federal government and government funds often carry stipulations that limit homeschoolers’ curriculum choices.”5 In other words, they are concerned that homeschoolers will voluntarily give up the hard-fought freedoms that the HSLDA and other lobbying groups have achieved over the years. By accepting the temptation of federal funding, families could find one day that the government uses the leverage of such funds to enforce a curriculum such as Common Core, or to require parents to teach doctrines in opposition to the their religious faith.

It remains to be seen whether President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress will change course based on the HSLDA’s advocacy, and whether they will withhold from homeschoolers the same vouchers that some students will use to escape failing public schools. If Trump reverses his position, some will no doubt argue that excluding home education from voucher programs treats homeschoolers unequally from those brick-and-mortar schoolchildren eligible to receive vouchers.

Ending Common Core?

Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly addressed the issue of Common Core—a controversial set of national standards pushed by President Barack Obama that had drawn the ire of homeschool advocates and parents alike. On the campaign trail, Trump had inspired his supporters with cries to get rid of Common Core and bring education back to the local level. In keeping with this message, the Republican Party platform in July rejected “a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” and encouraged states to reverse their participation in Common Core.

After the election, President-elect Trump stayed true to this campaign message. In his 100-day plan, he promised again to end Common Core. Moreover, at one of his December “Thank You” rallies in Michigan, he again emphasized his education goals, noting that his plan “includes eliminating Common Core, bringing education local, and providing school choice.”6

Doubts crept in, however, when he tapped Betsy DeVos to be the next Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos was a major proponent of school vouchers, but had also been associated with groups supporting Common Core. Almost immediately, she disavowed any support of Common Core; however, some still wonder how deep that commitment extends. Whatever her prior support, she clearly took a strong post-election position on the matter. Appearing with Trump at his “Thank you” rally in Michigan, DeVos proclaimed that “making education great again means ‘finally putting an end to the federal Common Core.’”7

In reality, the states that adopted Common Core did so only partly to gain federal funding—many also wanted to improve educational standards in their schools. Thus, even if President Trump reverses that policy, states will still have the option to continue using standards identical to a “federal” Common Core. If Trump follows through with his pledge, however, he will be on the road to encouraging the abandonment of the national standards and incentivizing the development of more local standards.

In conclusion, expect four interesting years under President Donald J. Trump. He will likely be a strong supporter of parenting rights; however, don’t expect major addresses from his “bully pulpit” targeted specifically at home education. Indeed, perhaps the most memorable education events of the Trump Administration will be the battles between home education lobbyists opposed to school vouchers and an Administration that has made school choice and vouchers the centerpiece of its education policy.

Endnotes:

1. Brandt Edmonston, Homeschooling Back on the Campaign Trail: Trump Speaks at Values Voter Summit, Sep. 19, 2016 (available here).

2. Andrew Mullins and Erin Reichard, RNC Platform Backs Home Ed: Will DNC Follow Suit?, Jul. 25, 2016 (available here).

3. Id.

4. Amita Kelly, Here Is What Donald Trump Wants To Do In His First 100 Days, Nov. 9, 2016 (available here.)

5. Edmonston, supra note 1.

6. Susan Berry, Betsy DeVos at Trump Michigan Rally: Time to ‘Finally Put an End to Federal Common Core,’ Dec. 9, 2016 (available here).

7. Id.


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