Friday Reading List: Conservatives Risk Hugging School Choice to Death and Other Stories

(Dear Readers: I am traveling this week, so the daily "Reading Lists" may be abbreviated. I also may post them at idiosyncratic times. Thanks for your patience!)

Reporters at The Washington Post got a preview of the Trump administration's education budget:

Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.

Early report suggest that the school choice incentive fund might work like the Obama administration's signature education program, Race to the Top. Some conservative policymakers are worried about this unmitigated embrace of school choice. Here's Rick Hess in USA Today:

Trump is a historically unpopular president. In the history of presidential polling, no president has ever polled this low, this early. Trump is polarizing and crude, while his administration is clumsy and gaffe-prone. So, school choice would not only risk being branded as TrumpChoice, but it would be fronted by an unpopular and divisive president. Democrats who are open to school choice but who despise Trump might wonder if they’re missing something when it comes to school choice (this happened to plenty of Republicans who weren’t sure what to make of the Common Core, but who figured that — if Barack Obama was out front pushing it — they were probably wise to be leery).

The comparison to Common Core is a good one, as that issue enjoyed support among centrists in both parties. That said, Common Core was unpopular on both the far-right AND the far-left. I don't really understand how the rightwing base of the GOP feels about school choice. Either way, Hess is right that reformers need to back away from Trump, and fast. I just wish that Trump's flagrant sexism, racism, and anti-immigrant attitudes had been sufficient to elicit such a reaction before.

The divide over school choice goes beyond partisan politics. Whereas there is significant bipartisan agreement about charter schools, vouchers remain polarizing. The Associated Press has more in Education Week:

For two decades, a loose-knit group that includes some of the country's wealthiest people has underwritten the political push for school choice, promoting ballot initiatives and candidates who favor competition for traditional public schools ... The movement has been cleaved into two camps: those who want to use choice to improve public schools and others, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who want to go further by allowing tax money to flow to private schools through vouchers, government-funded scholarships or corporate tax credits. The differences that once seemed minor are at the heart of a potential seismic shift in the school-choice movement.

The reporters looked at charitable donations and campaign finance reports to determine how the biggest education reform donors have split over the issue of vouchers. I buy their analysis of the funder dynamics, but the emphasis on donors is another sign that the reform coalition has suffered from overemphasizing a top-down approach to change.

Finally today, Breanna Edwards of The Root has ANOTHER story of a Black student being punished for wearing her natural hair:

The junior at the private Montverde Academy in Lake County, Fla., said that she is known for her curls but never thought she would be singled out because of them. “I received a call saying that my daughter needed to get her hair done and she wears her natural and I was kind of taken aback by it,” her dad, Eric Orr, said. Eric Orr said that a school administrator called and said that Nicole’s style wasn’t in line with the dress code.

This incident was in a private school, but we have seen this same pattern in traditional public schools and charter schools as well. School administrators - not to mention employers - need to understand how offensive it is to deny people the ability to wear their hair naturally. If your school's dress code explicitly forbids hairstyles associated with certain races or ethnicities, it's a racist policy. Period.

Have a nice weekend ...