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Four Ways That Education Advocacy Has Changed in the Trump Era

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The Trump era is a whole new ball game for the folks in Washington who represent public school educators, the civil rights community, and robust K-12 funding. (That's the bulk of the D.C. K-12 lobbying community.)

Here are four things that long-time education advocates in those areas tell us have changed since President Donald Trump, and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, took office earlier this year:

Some feel they are fighting a multifront war.

The Trump administration wants to cut the U.S. Department of Education's budget by 13 percent, including big cuts to teacher quality and after-school programs. The House GOP health-care bill could threaten Medicaid funding, which helps finance special education. And then there's the administration's big school choice initiative—whenever it comes down the pike.

"Being an advocate for public education gives me job security," joked Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. "There's plenty to engage on."

It's tougher to deal with the Education Department, in part because most of the political staffers are temporary, and career folks aren't always as accessible as they were in the past.

Advocates who work with the department say career staffers aren't as forthcoming as they were in past administrations—in part because the White House has been slow to fill the political ranks at the department.

"I think in many ways the administration is still getting its people in place," said Jacki Ball, the director of government affairs for the National PTA. "We're just not always sure who to go to. We're trying to develop relationships with the people that are there," including Jason Botel, the acting assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, who spoke at a recent PTA conference. "That was a good opportunity to open the door."

Members of these organizations are more engaged than ever.

The educators and grassroots civil rights activists that many in Washington's advocacy community represent have been on high alert ever since Trump's election—and especially after DeVos' appointment as secretary. That's great for motivating members to contact their representatives in Congress to defeat a particular piece of legislation. But it also means fielding questions on bills that aren't likely to go anywhere, but have been the subject of viral social media posts. (Exhibit A: A voucher bill from Rep. Steve King, R- Iowa.)

Advocates get to work with folks they sometimes butted heads with on policy in the past.

During the Obama years, and even the Bush era, civil rights groups and advocates for public school educators repeatedly clashed over policy details and the federal role in K-12. Now they're working in vast coalitions to stave off budget cuts and  a voucher push.

"This administration has really done a lot to unite the education community and unite strange bedfellows, which is a positive thing," Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, the director of government relations for the National Assocation of School Psychologists said. In the past, organizations representing public educators and civil rights groups may have been at odds about the details of a particular proposal, but now they are all working to preserve education funding and stave off a voucher push.

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