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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

War is brewing on school aid, vouchers, charters and unions

Donald Trump with Betsy DeVos, his pick to

Donald Trump with Betsy DeVos, his pick to head the federal Department of Education, on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016: DeVos is a critic of Common Core and a proponent of charter schools and vouchers for private and parochial schools. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

Everyone with a stake in school politics — parents, teachers, administrators — had better get ready for big changes in national policy.

Bracing for hostilities under a new federal regime, northeastern Democrats appear ready to invoke states’ rights, traditionally a Southern battle cry.

With GOP billionaire-activist Betsy DeVos tapped to head the U.S. Education Department, the distribution and degree of federal aid face changes.

But governors and legislatures also have a lot to say on curricula and aid, and will try to exercise their local controls.

DeVos says she is an opponent of the Common Core curriculum. Those standards have appeared doomed for nearly two years anyway.

School philosophies often give way to jargon and mantras. No Child Left Behind. Teaching for Tomorrow. Common Core. Race to the Top. Expect a different catchphrase or two out of Washington in the months ahead.

How to privatize parts of the nation’s public school systems becomes a question for the new Trump administration. A Michigan-based philanthropist, DeVos has pushed for tax-funded vouchers for private and parochial schools.

She supports charter school expansion.

Allies tout her as a disrupter of the status quo.

Perhaps the public-to-private ethic runs in the family. Her brother Erik Prince founded Blackwater Worldwide, the former private security company that received billions of dollars as a U.S. government contractor during the Iraq War.

Challenges to the priorities of education unions won’t be limited to DeVos and the federal bureaucracy.

As president, Donald Trump will also get to determine a Supreme Court majority.

Last March, public employee unions dodged a bullet when the court deadlocked on a key case in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

But new challenges are expected on the same legal issue — whether unions can continue to collect dues or fees from nonmembers who benefit from their collective bargaining.

The Trump administration will need both houses of Congress to enforce many proposed changes. There, with tea party members as part of the GOP majority, voices are likely be raised against federal hegemony over local schools, in the declared cause of smaller government.

As with health care, details of the Trump proposals, widely awaited, are bound to set off a big reaction.

In the education world, of course, many progressives have begun to localize and mobilize in a wider way in reaction to Trump’s election.

In Albany, for example, Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, is coalescing with several other groups to target in particular Trump’s appointment of so-called alt-righter Steve Bannon as a top adviser.

“Anyone who turns a blind eye to Bannon is providing a green light to hate crimes,” says an open letter signed by a score of New York activists, and addressed to state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

Flanagan is the state government’s only powerful Republican, which means he’s the only big elected Albany player to have endorsed Trump. There was no immediate response.

School politics never exists separate and apart from the wider arena of civic battles.


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