Keep education public under Trump

HANNAH LEE / AGGIE

Trump threatens to strip funds from UC Berkeley

When President Donald Trump threatened to strip federal funds from UC Berkeley last week after violent protests shut down a scheduled talk by conservative agitator Milo Yiannopoulos, he demonstrated once again a profound lack of policy knowledge that could imperil the American education system.

It’s not enough, apparently, that he would appoint Betsy DeVos — an avowed enemy of public education in her home state of Michigan — to lead the Department of Education. He also feels the urge to deny a university critical funds because of the reckless actions of a few demonstrators among many who had gathered peacefully to reject Yiannopoulos’ dangerous rhetoric.

Fortunately, no law exists today that would allow Trump to withhold federal funds from a university because of a protest. The health care programs, research grants and financial aid all made possible by federal funds are, for the time being, safe from the president’s vindictive reach.

What we’re left with is another example of Trump speaking before he knows the facts. Such irresponsible words — made in the form of a tweet, no less — help feed into the grossly exaggerated narrative that the greatest issue facing higher education today is overly politically-correct college students. It’s not, and stoking such sentiments distracts from real problems like unsustainable tuition hikes, the sexual assault epidemic and the need to expand federal Pell grants so low-income students can afford a decent education.

It’s true that a policy Trump proposed to cap student loan payments at 12.5 percent of a person’s annual income — with all debt forgiven after 15 years — could bear some positive results. Other countries like England and Australia already have such plans in place. Low-income borrowers in particular might benefit from not having to pay more than 15 years, a common and restricting problem under the current system.

But make no mistake: Trump’s philosophy on education is one that centers around the tired idea that schools benefit from competing against other schools. He wouldn’t have nominated DeVos as Secretary of Education if he believed in the ability of public schools to provide valuable learning experiences to students. But how could he? Both Trump and DeVos are the billionaire products of elite private schools. The huckster sales tactics Trump University engaged in were fraudulent — indicative of a crony capitalist, not an educator.
Should Trump implement a voucher system — in which public funds are given to parents to help pay for private charter schools — he would bring a free-market mindset to the classroom that better belongs on Wall Street. Resisting DeVos, whose lobbying efforts helped kill basic charter school oversight in Detroit, will be critical to ensuring public education remains public. The cost of failure would be immense and would help make education — a proven tool of upward social mobility — less accessible to thousands of young students.

Written by: The Editorial Board

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