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Head of Urban Districts' Coalition Says Trump Win Won't Change Group's Focus

What does President-elect Trump's win mean for traditional urban school districts?

It's anybody's guess.  

During the campaign, Donald Trump did not spend a lot of time offering deep details on K-12 policy. However, he proposed a $20 billion federal plan to expand school choice, which would allow students to use federal funds to attend private, charter, magnet or traditional public schools of their choice, Andrew Ujifusa of the Politics K-12 blog reported. And he expressed interest in eliminating or significantly slimming down the federal Education Department.

Gerard Robinson, a research fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, who is advising the Trump transitional team on education, told Politics K-12 last week that the new administration could scale back the role of the Education Department's office for civil rights. 

But Trump's message directed at urban centers was often one of doom and gloom, such as when he said on the campaign trail and in one of the debates: 

"Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"

"Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store, you have no education, no jobs."

Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, the Washington-based organization that represents the nation's 70 largest urban school districts, says he was as surprised as anyone else—both the winner and loser of the contest—with a Trump victory.

"It won't change our overall priorities, or our direction, or our values," Casserly said last week, while still absorbing the results. "A good part of our work is to help our own membership improve, and that priority will not change no matter who the administration is. We may end up playing a bit more defense on some legislative issues than we care to play, but the overall direction and priorities and mission of the organization will stay pretty steadfast."

Casserly said he won't be surprised if a new Trump administration and Congress—both the House and the Senate are now GOP-controlled—will try to cut discretionary federal funds, including public education funding. 

The group would push back on any effort to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, he said, and he thinks there is enough bi-partisan support on Capitol Hill to prevent that from happening.

The Council sees the Education Department as an important bulwark in protecting the civil rights of the students its districts' serve, predominantly low-income students and students of color.

(Interestingly, the Council was not exactly on board with the creation of the federal education department, but its stance has changed in the last 50 years.)

"We would actively oppose it," Casserly said of the possible elimination of the Education Department. "And, I think there is enough of a coalition on Capitol Hill to make opposition to it a rather bi-partisan issue. ...I think it remains to be seen exactly what a Trump administration might do with Department of Education or what they might propose doing. I think that's also true of number of policy questions, where the new administration is a bit of a blank slate."

There are also uncertainties about whether the incoming Trump administration will seek to reverse the draft rules for the new Every Student Succeeds Act issued by the Obama Administration, he said. 

Casserly noted that the council, which is non-partisan, faced a similar period of uncertainty when President Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.

"We were forced to play a lot more defense than we would have otherwise cared to, because there were sometimes proposals on the table that were a direct threat to the viability of these schools and their kids," he said.  "I am kind of reminded of that time.  But having gone through it, I am not scared of it."

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