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The Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week has showcased plenty of hoopla and boilerplate rhetoric – some of it apparently plagiarized – but provided little enlightenment on key themes such as education. On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan and New Jersey governor Chris Christie bypassed the subject completely. Not so Donald Trump Jr., son of the Republican nominee, who is not running for office.
“Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class, now they’re stalled on the ground floor,” he told the conventioneers. “They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers.” According to the nominee’s son, the reason other countries are besting the U.S. is that in other nations, “They let parents choose where they send their own children to school. It’s called competition. It’s called the free market.” In other countries, “They let parents choose where they send their own children to school. It’s called competition. It’s called the free market.” Trump Jr. said the free market is “what the other party fears,” and “They want to run everything, top-down from Washington. They tell us they’re the experts and they know what’s best.”
As Education Week noted, despite the speech, RNC delegates were “totally in the dark about what Trump stands for when it comes to K-12 policy.” The candidate is on record that “Our public schools have grown up in a competition-free zone, surrounded by a very high union wall,” and that teacher unions “take a strong stand against school choice.” He also said last year: “I may cut Department of Education.”
Ronald Reagan and other Republicans failed to cut the department and it has grown in power, with a budget of nearly $70 billion, up $1.3 billion over 2016. The federal department also deploys an armed enforcement division. For a wider assessment of federal education policy see Vicki Alger’s Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.