Parents in Los Angeles Give President Trump an "F" 
Introduction

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. While President Trump ran on “making America great, again,” he was notoriously vague in terms of his education platform. The New York Times, for example, described candidate Trump’s education policy as a “series of short clips, some seemingly contradictory” rather than fully formed policy plans.[1] As a result, parents have had to spend the first year of the Trump Administration looking for clarity on the President’s educational priorities. 

 

One traditional measuring post parents use to gauge a President's priorities is the appointment of a Secretary of Education. Unfortunately, the decision to appoint Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education further confused parents as to what President Trump’s agenda would be for public schools. Having previously described public schools as a “dead end,” DeVos appeared to be an ill fitted advocate for the nation’s public schools.[2] She also appeared unfamiliar with the needs of students with disabilities by bungling the most important federal law protecting students with disabilities—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) during her confirmation hearings.[3]

 

Of course, 2017 is not the first time parents have had to fight for their children’s right to an education. Since the landmark court decision Brown v. Board of Education[4] dismantled the idea of “separate but equal,” parents of minority children, immigrants, students with disabilities, and other traditionally disenfranchised communities have challenged the educational system to provide their children with equal rights and protections.

Learning Rights Law Center Survey

In the Spring and Summer of 2017, Learning Rights conducted a survey of 101 parents, many of whom were parents of students with disabilities. Our survey found that many parents did not have much hope for the current administration.

 

The six-question survey, which was available in both English and Spanish, sought parents’ thoughts on President’s Trump’s work on education-related issues. We received responses from 40 primarily English-speaking parents and 60 primarily Spanish-speaking parents. The vast majority of our parents were surveyed at TIGER Program classes and our annual Town Hall in May, 2017.

 

Most of the parents surveyed live in Los Angeles or Los Angeles County. The results[5] are as follows.

Question 1: Grade Trump's Work on Education So Far

In our first question, we asked parents to rate President Trump’s work on education-related issues. Our parents responded as follows:

 

  • 1% of parents gave President Trump an A;

  • 2% of parents gave President Trump a B;

  • 3% of parents gave President Trump a C;

  • 10% of parents gave President Trump a D;

  • 83% of parents gave President Trump an F.

We therefore found overwhelming disappointment with President Trump’s handling of education-related issues. In Question 2, we asked why.

Question 2: Why did you give President Trump the grade above?

Respondents were allowed to select as many of the following options as they liked:

 

  • Selected Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education;

  • Supports charter schools over regular public schools;

  • Has not been a supporter of students with disabilities;

  • Has not prioritized education funding;

  • Has no clear vision for education in the United States; and/or  

  • Other (please specify).

 

Approximately 50% graded President Trump as they did due to the selection of  Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Over 60% of parents cited the lack of support towards their children with disabilities—and lack of vision—in grading President Trump.

While the survey did not capture why Secretary DeVos is such a controversial figure, the Secretary is a well-known supporter of publicly-funded vouchers for “school choice.”[6] Advocates for vouchers claim they help all parents access quality education and services, but many in the public education sector disagree. For example, when parents receive a voucher for their child to attend a private school, they may waive some of their rights under IDEIA.[7] The education, services, and accommodations these students are entitled to receive become a private good and students may lose legal protections.[8] The Center for American Progress, a national nonprofit, for example, reviewed state-based voucher programs and found that they “either eliminate or greatly diminish the rights and protections of students with disabilities that are otherwise guaranteed by federal law.”[9] Such an approach potentially endangers the years of progress in enabling students with disabilities to obtain an accessible education.

 

Question 3: What hopes do you have for your child's education under President Trump?

The results showed parents hope for an increase in access and funds for services, or at best that the administration maintains current levels of funding. One of the most significant concerns includes possible funding cuts that would hurt their child’s education by limiting access to services. This would place added burdens on parents trying to obtain accommodations needed for their children by shifting costs to the individual. At a minimum, the parents surveyed hope current access to vital services and resources will not be impaired. 

 

In our survey, parents relayed the following hopes and concerns:[10]

Question 4: What fears do you have for your child's education under President Trump?

In addition to their hopes, we asked parents about their fears they have for their child’s education. Beyond the concerns mentioned above, parents also fear discrimination in school settings and more limited opportunities for their children’s education.

Many of these fears stem from the lack of vision these parents have observed in the administration. As of Fall 2017, the administration has passed no significant education-related legislation and taken no action to show a commitment to students with disabilities. We found in our survey that under today’s administration, there was more fear than hope.

Question 5: What education "to do" list would you give President Trump?

Since parents are experts on what is best for their children and what it will take for them to succeed, we asked parents what they would put on President Trump’s education to do list. Their advice included funding the public education system and increasing the protections under federal law. Most importantly, they hope the President will educate himself on disabilities and special education.

Question 6: The intersection between disability, education and immigration status

The undocumented community is confronting additional uncertainties under the new administration. States such as California have passed legislation to create sanctuary zones around educational settings and health facilities. However, the Trump Administration has pushed back against these so-called “sanctuary state” measures, calling for the enforcement of immigration law and policies nationwide. Indeed, several of President Trump’s 2017 Presidential Executive Orders and recent legal action are intended to force cities and states to comply with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) or face federal funding cuts.

 

Immigrant families of students with disabilities are an especially vulnerable population since they have both disability and immigration concerns affecting their families. We found that many of these families may be afraid to seek legal help or fight for their children’s rights in school  because they fear putting themselves at risk for deportation. Immigration enforcement not only affects the undocumented community, but also the disabled and education communities, as Question 6 shows:

Learning Rights found 88% of  parents knew someone who had been impacted by immigration reform under the Trump administration. The results clearly show how this community is affected and its greatest concerns moving forward.

 

Most importantly, the results showed how this issue impacts school-aged children in their education. More than a quarter of these families are now too concerned to allow children to attend school. Seventy percent of children reported feelings of stress regarding their own or their family’s legal status. Students with disabilities already face daily challenges due to their disability and/or medical condition. The current environment around immigration enforcement adds to these challenges, interfering with their focus and learning.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There has been much advancement in implementing protections for at-risk students and students with disabilities over the years. This has empowered parents to fight for a more just educational system and has given countless students access to a free appropriate public education. Unfortunately, parents today face uncertainty about where educational access and students with disabilities fit into the Trump Administration’s still-developing education agenda.

 

All signs, however, point to an agenda that is bent on revoking hard earned educational and civil rights. Our parents are not imaging this. For example, President Trump and his Administration have:

  • Sought to dismantle civil rights protections at various government agencies;[11]

  • Rescinded 72 guidance documents for students in special education;[12] and

  • Scaled back civil rights investigations at the federal level.[13]

 

With cries of “build the wall!, immigration has also been a defining aspect of the Trump Administration. Immigration enforcement under this new administration further impacts students and their families. Fears of deportation discourage families from seeking an education for their children and may even force parents to avoid schools.

Learning Rights Law Center recommend the Trump Administration implement the following:

  • Increase rather than cut public education funds to ensure access to services, accommodations, and resources that students with disabilities are entitled to by law;

  • Defend and expand legislation to further increase the protections of students with disabilities and advance special education access;

  • Undergo training on disabilities to gain knowledge of student needs in both their school and personal lives; and

  • Support sanctuary zones around school, health, and governmental settings to enable all children to access their education without fear for themselves or their families safety.

[1] Saul, Stephanie. “Where Donald Trump Stands on School Choice, Student Debt and Common Core.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Nov. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/where-trump-stands-on-school-choice-student-debt-and-common-core.html?mcubz=3.

[2] Strauss, Valerie. “To Trump’s Education Pick, the U.S. Public School System Is a ‘Dead End.’” The Washington Post, WP Company, 21 Dec. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/12/21/to-trumps-education-pick-the-u-s-public-school-system-is-a-dead-end/.

[3] Strauss, Valerie. “The Deep Irony in Betsy DeVos’s First Speech on Special Education.”The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 July 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/18/the-deep-irony-in-betsy-devoss-first-speech-on-special-education/?utm_term=.b1fa6e8c39df.

[4] 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

[5] Results have been rounded to the nearest percentage point, as needed.

[6] “School Vouchers.” National Conference of State Legislatures, NCSL, 20 June 2013, www.ncsl.org/research/education/school-choice-vouchers.aspx.

[7] “Voucher Schemes: A Bad IDEA for Students with Disabilities.” National Education Association, 2008. www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB14_SpecEdVouchers08.pdf.

[8] Strauss, Valerie. “The Deep Irony in Betsy DeVos’s First Speech on Special Education.”The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 July 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/18/the-deep-irony-in-betsy-devoss-first-speech-on-special-education/?utm_term=.b1fa6e8c39df.

[9] Benner, Meg and Ulrich, Rebecca. “Betsy DeVos’ Threat to Students with Disabilities,” Center for American Progress, 17 February 2017.  https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/reports/2017/02/02/298010/betsy-devos-threat-to-children-with-disabilities/.

10 Parent quotes in this paper may have been translated from Spanish and/or corrected for spelling mistakes.

[11] Eilperin, Juliet, et al. “Trump Administration Plans to Minimize Civil Rights Efforts in Agencies.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 May 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-administration-plans-to-minimize-civil-rights-efforts-in-agencies/2017/05/29/922fc1b2-39a7-11e7-a058-ddbb23c75d82_story.html?utm_term=.39552a448168.

[12] Balingit, Moriah. “DeVos Rescinds 72 Guidance Documents Outlining Rights for Disabled Students.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 21 Oct. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/10/21/devos-rescinds-72-guidance-documents-outlining-rights-for-disabled-students/?utm_term=.ccbb528cef26.

[13] Green, Erica L. “Education Dept. Says It Will Scale Back Civil Rights Investigations.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 June 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/06/16/us/politics/education-department-civil-rights-betsy-devos.html.

For more information on this paper, you may contact Learning Rights Law Center at (213) 489-4030 or info@learningrights.org

 

You may also visit us as at www. learningrights.org.

 

This white paper was written and edited by Learning Rights Law Center staff, Inés Kuperschmit, Esq., and Rodolfo Estrada, Esq., in collaboration with Learning Rights Law Center volunteers, Dr. Sarah Ellen Graham, Stacy Nunez and Andrea Reyes.

Learning Rights Law Center

1625 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 500

Los Angeles, CA 90015 213-489-4030

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