Trump’s Education Budget: Cruel And Unusual Punishment

President Trump’s budget proposal violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The crime it punishes is not being wealthy, healthy and deserving of tax cuts. Budgets are values statements. Trump’s first full education budget proposal is no exception. Its $9.2 Billion or 13.6% cut in the spending level approved by the already spendthrift conservative Congress also violates the values of most Americans. Bigly. It cuts programs that help most children in order to fund programs to help a few children– and facilitate tax cuts for the wealthy.

As a citizen, lifelong educator and grandfather, I am appalled. We have schools not just to benefit individual children. Effective, humane, well-funded, equitable schools make for a better society. With its emphasis on privately governed charter schools and vouchers to attend private schools, Trump’s budget says that somehow parents’ individual decisions about education are automatically better than democratic community decisions. Choices by either individuals or groups are neither inherently good nor bad. That is a function of the values that guide them. The foundational value of Trump’s education budget is, “Just look out for yourself.” Most of us, I think, reject that dystopian idea.

Conservatives frequently excoriate so-called debilitating dependency on government programs. But, by definition children are dependent on adults. That’s why they are called dependents on our annual tax forms. Oh, wait. Supporters of Trump’s unusually cruel budget don’t believe that about everyone. In their view, it is good for children of the rich to benefit from largesse passed down by their parents. Somehow, that does not create dependency. I say, no. When we collectively help one another through taxes, that is a good thing.

I am furious. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can and must do better.

So, let’s quit the phony pretensions about choice and dependency.

Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and their supporters do not want to spread charter schools to provide more effective education to more children than in neighborhood public schools. We already know that they will not.

They don’t want charter schools to compete for students with public schools because such competition leads to innovative improvements. They don’t want to replace democratic with the private governance of schools because it is more efficient, or more responsive to students needs, or results in better decision-making, or is less vulnerable to corruption. We already know that the opposite is the case.

They do not want to replace taxpayer-funded public education that enrolls the vast majority of local children with tax credits for vouchers to attend the private school of their parents’ choosing because it will lead to a more equitable education for all students. We already know that it will not.

They do not want to shift targeted federal education funds into block grants to states because it will result in better outcomes for all children. We already know that it will not.

In fact, education policies that rely on market forces and individual choice have always had only three goals: Profit for individual investors, the protection, and enhancement of the privileges of the few, and legalized segregation. Make no mistake. Republicans have no intention of increasing education funds at the local or state levels. That would violate their core values: Keep as much of their wealth as possible. Pay as little in taxes as they can get away with to help other folks. Pander to people who want a religious or segregated education on the public’s dime.

When limited resources are distributed inequitably, and when which schools children attend is a free-for-all competition, there are always winners and losers. The privileged aim to keep their privileges. They use their power and influence to control the rules. They get away with it when they convince enough of the rest of us to adopt their selfish values. Let’s not.

Instead, let’s get on with helping most children.

Inequality in education, especially in the United States, has been the way it is for a long time. But that is not some natural law. There is a better way. It starts with rejecting selfishness and affirming our core help-one-another values. Bill Clinton said it clearly in his speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention. “You see,” he told the nation, “we believe that we’re all in this together is a far better philosophy than you’re on your own.”

Most of us recognize Clinton’s point (even if as President, he often did not act on it). We need to start voting for people who act on those values.

Acting on our shared we’re-in-this-together values points to different education budget priorities. Here are a few:

  • Guaranteed, free post-secondary education for any student who wants to pursue it
  • Full funding (finally!) for special education
  • Small classes, especially for young children
  • Continuous professional growth opportunities for teachers and administrators
  • Incentives for diverse, integrated schools (Diverse is the country in which we live now! Let’s prepare our children for it.)
  • Safe schools in which all students are known, valued and respected
  • Social supports for children and their families
  • Schools that emphasize the arts, physical education, social studies and science as much as reading and math
  • Less consequential testing and more daily assessment to help children learn
  • Equitable funding of schools with far less dependence on local property taxes
  • Democratic governance of schools

I hope Trump is impeached and convicted and that he and his whole gang end up in jail. However, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, we’d better get busy fighting for policies and budgets that put helping one another ahead of selfishness- yes, through\ taxes in which the wealthy pay far more.

Going forward, every government vote, every budget, and every program decision is a values choice:

Do we want to be selfish or help one another?

Arthur H. Camins is a lifelong educator. Most recently, he was the director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. He has taught and been an administrator in New York City, Massachusetts, and Louisville, Kentucky. The ideas expressed in this article are his alone.

His writings are collected at

Follow Arthur on Twitter: @arthurcamins


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