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Conservatives hope for major education changes if Trump wins

Conservatives are hoping for major education reforms from President Trump should he return to the White House.  

The presumptive Republican nominee has touted his record with school choice and his goal to reverse President Biden’s Title IX reforms, as well as regularly decrying efforts at student loan forgiveness.  

Education has never been a top issue for Trump, who devotes far more energy to immigration and the economy, but that doesn’t bother conservatives, who would rather see the issue returned to state and local governments regardless. 

“At the end of the day, education is a quintessentially state and local issue, right? So there’s not a whole lot that the federal executive branch can or should do,” said Lindsey Burke, director for the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation. “Now, that’s not to say they should not do anything […] or he should totally step away from it. But I think advancing any sort of large-scale federal program — you know, we really want to see this at the state and local level.” 

Student loans

One of the most pressing issues in education for the current administration has been student loans: President Biden has forgiven more than $160 billion for multiple groups of borrowers.  

A survey by Social Sphere recently found 48 percent of voters said cancelling student loans is an important issue for them going into the November election.  

“From now until Election Day, we’ll be meeting voters where they are and reminding them early and often that it’s Joe Biden who has their back and Donald Trump who stands in the way of life-changing relief,” Biden’s campaign said in a statement.  

Like most Republicans, Trump has balked at Biden’s efforts.

After the Supreme Court decision to strike down Biden’s universal student debt relief last summer, Trump said such forgiveness is “very, very unfair to the millions and millions of people who have paid their debt through hard work.” 

Trump will face calls from conservatives to halt any student loan efforts and maybe even reverse some of the policies enacted by Biden, such as the new income-driven repayment plan that cuts the cost of monthly student loans payments from 10 percent to 5 percent of discretionary income.  

“I mean, I think rescission of a lot of these regulations that the Biden administration has handed down would be an immediate welcome development,” Burke said.  

School choice

On his campaign site, the first thing Trump lists under his “Protect Parents’ Rights” section is charter schools and school choice. The former president also highlighted his efforts to expand school choice in his rebuttal to Biden’s State of the Union address this year.

Trump was able in the GOP-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to allow families to use up to $10,000 in a 529 college savings account for K-12 education expenses, and he has called on Congress to pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, which would offer a federal tax credit when investing in private schools or other educational opportunities.

“This next administration has a real opportunity here to enact those federal tax credit scholarships that would open up school choice nationwide,” said Angela Morabito, spokesperson for the Defense of Freedom Institute.  

Vaccine mandates

Trump was a big proponent of the COVID-19 vaccine created under his administration, but he has since voiced opposition to vaccine mandates, worrying health experts who point to his use of language popular with the anti-vaxx movement.

“I will not give one penny to any school that has a vaccine mandate or a mask mandate,” Trump said at a campaign rally. The campaign previously said he is only referring to the COVID-19 vaccine specifically.

“If you actually listen to the entire section, and also if you’ve been following his speeches for the past year, he’s talking about COVID vaccines in addition to masks in the same breath. This isn’t anything new,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in an email. 

But the issue has caused alarm.

Trump “is an important voice. He has a big platform. And he uses that platform, in this case, to do harm. Because he’s implying by saying that we shouldn’t mandate vaccines, vaccines are in some ways ineffective or unsafe,” Paul Offit, a pediatrician and vaccine expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, previously told The Hill.

Culture war issues

Another major Biden policy Trump would sure to rescind are changes to Title IX that would not allow schools to apply blanket bans on transgender athletes to participate on a team that aligns with their gender identity.  

“One thing that we’re seeing from the Trump campaign is a priority around prohibiting men from participating in women’s sports, and then ensuring that the direction that the Biden administration is going with Title IX is rolled back so that women’s spaces are protected. Right now, they’re under assault by that by the administration,” said Ginny Gentles, director of the Education Freedom Center for Independent Women’s Forum.  

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said when the changes were proposed that, “Every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination. Being on a sports team is an important part of the school experience for students of all ages.”

The “culture war” issues in education that conservatives have clung to could be a tougher spot for Trump, as many Republicans believe they need to be handled at the state and local level, while others says federal legislation is required.  

“Now, Joe Biden and the radical left are using the public school system to push their perverse sexual, racial, and political material on our youth. President Trump will cut federal funding for any school or program pushing Critical Race Theory or gender ideology on our children,” his campaign site reads.  

“President Trump will reward states and school districts that abolish teacher tenure for grades K-12 and adopt Merit Pay, cut the number of school administrators, adopt a Parental Bill of Rights, and implement the direct election of school principals by the parents,” the site continues.  

More than a dozen states have already banned critical race theory in their schools 

A “parental bill of rights” was passed by House Republicans last year, though it stood no chance in the Democratic Senate.  

“I definitely don’t think conservatives would want to see any sort of federal legislation” on issues such as limiting what books can be in schools, Burke said.  

“States have the power and responsibility to some extent to set standards which can drive curriculum and ultimately textbook adoption but, really, this is a local level matter,” she added. 

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