Dramatic changes pledged by President-elect Donald Trump make 2017 a potentially tumultuous time for everyone. Whether the promised disruption is a good thing or a bad thing depends on which side of the political fence you sit, but either way it will be an interesting year.
Worth noting, these changes will affect the world at large as well as everyday Americans. I know this empirically having watched the foreign policy back-and-forths. But at a gut level, I know it because I saw Air Force One on a runway in Hawaii while visiting my daughter last week.
That is, I saw one of two Boeing 747-200Bs customized for presidential use, easily spotted by its size and paint job. According to the White House website, both Air Force Ones have 4,000 square feet of floor space over three levels, including a conference room, medical suite and two galleys able to feed 100 passengers. It can be fueled midair.
Forget Trump Tower – he can run the country from 30,000 feet. Seeing the plane drove home, in a way words on a page could not, the immense power being handed over on Jan. 20.
What this means around our jittery globe, only time will tell, but in California we have some stability built in by state law and sheer size. Here are some thoughts from the peanut gallery about what the next year will bring in education here.
1. Less money, but not a lot less.
The passage of Proposition 55 in November will give California schools a buffer against a long-anticipated economic slowdown and fewer federal dollars. The state’s switch three years ago to a funding system that prioritizes money to serve poor kids and English learners will help offset cuts to federal programs serving both those groups.
Federal funding accounted for about 10 percent of the $77 billion California spent on education in 2014-15, the latest figures on the state Department of Education website.
The Trump campaign pledged to devote $20 billion, or about 1 in 5 education dollars, to school choice through voucher programs, giving preference to states with existing programs open to private schools – in other words, not us. In rough numbers, the shift could cut $1.5 billion statewide from targeted programs for poor kids, English learners, girls’ sports, special education and teacher training.
2. Private school expansion, but not here.
California backs public charter schools to give parents choices, all still subject to state standards, testing rules and requirements for teacher competence. Oddly, their test results tend to be really high or really low – an inverted bell curve, as one state charter association leader called it.
Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, was instrumental in swaying public policy to bring private school choice to Detroit and has consistently advocated private options for the poorest children. Nearly a quarter, 23 percent, of Michigan public school students took advantage of the program, with 13 percent opting for public schools in other districts and 10 percent picking private schools, according to an analysis by MLive.com, a Michigan news organization.
Critics say Detroit families got more choices, but not quality choices. Without oversight, private schools lured students with free iPads rather than excellent programs. Without cars, many families in the poorest areas had no choice but to stay at neighborhood schools faced with less funding and more challenging students. Several years in, the MLive report says Detroit students overall are doing only marginally better.
It is difficult to measure outcomes from private schools against traditional school systems. Besides a broad variation in what’s taught and what’s tested, private schools have options public schools do not have, like mandating parent participation and turning away low achievers or kids who misbehave.
In California, private schools by design have little oversight. Many choose to set higher standards for themselves than required of public schools, staking their reputations on excellent student outcomes. Other schools draw students by sticking to a Bible-based version of science and history, or commitment to a single, familiar culture.
How private choices will change in places receiving those billions of dollars will be something to watch.
3. Nightmares for Dreamers
President-elect Trump can end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (better known as the Dream Act) as soon as he takes office, though his recent comments suggest a softening on this. California can refuse to help round up those teens and young adults, but it cannot stop federal enforcement and the incoming administration will inherit a database of students granted DACA status.
On Dec. 21, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson encouraged all California schools to be declared safe havens for students and their parents. Existing laws protect student records from questions about immigration status. No records can be released to law enforcement without a parent’s written permission, a court order or subpoena. Schools should not collect or maintain any documents pertaining to immigration status, Torlakson said.
The upshot is no district knows how many illegal immigrants they serve. But abrupt departures could cause fiscal chaos the following year. School revenue is based on attendance, but for many reasons layoffs made usually fail to match dollars lost.
Immigration issues loom large here, and even children born in the United States may fear for parents at risk of deportation. It is not clear how many kids could be affected, but we do know 22 percent of all California students are not fluent in English.
4. More social services in schools
While voter initiatives will keep state revenue flowing to schools, as in the recession other services are likely to fall short. Federal cuts to social services will make it harder for California to help young families. Many of those home difficulties will translate into problems at school.
Of particular concern for low-income students – 61 percent of kids in California schools – is the loss of the Affordable Care Act. Though Congress tried to repeal Obamacare more than 60 times since its inception, experts say those votes never included a plan to replace it.
Now repeal is imminent, but replacement for the complex package of legislation may be years away. At stake is not only subsidies for medical insurance, but requirements that insurers accept people with pre-existing conditions, not kick people off when they get a high-cost diagnosis, and let kids stay on their parents’ policies to age 26.
Some schools had already stepped up, using extra state funding for low-income kids to provide mental health services. Campuses in Ceres, and Enochs High in Modesto, received statewide recognition in 2016 for starting prevention and care programs to help kids cope.
Districts with high numbers of English learners have hired more translators to check on school absences, or help families fill out needed forms. A few schools have opened medical clinics or linked to nearby community centers to improve access to social services.
5. More focus on bullying
There are few solid numbers on how such a coarse campaign affected behavior in schools already straining to build civility in arguably the most diverse classrooms in the country.
The most common incident seemed to be kids threatening other kids they would be deported the moment Trump won. Children of families here for generations were targeted as much as immigrants – this was straight up bullying, a problem on school grounds since schools began.
Did the nastiness of the Trump rallies egg them on? Certainly they showcased grown-ups at their bullying, shrieking worst. The Trump victory, moreover, made it look like horrible behavior worked, that was the way to win, and that will haunt schools well into this coming year no matter how civilly Trump the president behaves.
Serious efforts to deal with bullies are wrapped into the mental health and restorative justice approaches to discipline being implemented school by school. Expect to see more of this as campuses try to teach kids how to work through conflict without screaming and slugging like those grown-ups on national television.