by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Martin Falbisoner
There was plenty of speculation before last night’s State of the Union that President Trump would strike a tone of bipartisanship and speak to values that bind our nation together. For students and public schools, however, the speech was as telling for what it said as what it didn’t say.
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For someone listening to Trump for the first time, his remarks, while overly self-congratulatory, did not stray far from traditional State of the Union rhetoric. But for most people who have listened to him for the past year, read about his policies and his proposals, saw his tweets, and are familiar with the people he’s appointed to his administration, Trump’s address came off as misleading, offensive and at odds with his record.
Lily Eskelsen García, an elementary teacher from Utah and president of the National Education Association, pointed out what Trump did not say:
We heard a lot from President Trump last night. He touted his billionaire tax handout and isolationist immigration policies. But you know what he didn’t discuss? He failed to lay out a plan how his education department, helmed by the extremely unqualified Betsy DeVos, would provide opportunities for all students to succeed. How students—one of our nation’s greatest resources—were not mentioned in the State of the Union is beyond me.
Trump said the tax law he signed is providing “tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses” and lowering “tax rates for hardworking Americans.”
What Trump did not mention:
- The law’s partial elimination of the state and local tax deduction jeopardizes the ability of states and local communities to fund public education, potentially risking state funding for more than 133,000 educator jobs in 2019 and imperiling $152 billion in education funding over 10 years.
- The biggest beneficiaries from the tax law are the wealthy and corporations. The tax cuts are permanent for corporations and other businesses, but the cuts for individuals expire after 2025, unless Congress extends them. And while people in the middle class generally benefit over this period, the largest cuts go to those at the very top, multiple nonpartisan analyses show.
- The law partially repeals the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which will leave 13 million Americans uninsured and result in drastic spikes in insurance premiums for millions more.
- It expands an education tax loophole that would further benefit the wealthy and allow them to set aside money for private school expenses—essentially a voucher program for wealthy families.
Trump spoke of the need to “invest in workforce development and job training.” But in its 2018 budget proposal, the Trump administration proposed cutting state grants for career and technical education programs by 15 percent, partly to pay for private school vouchers. David Hope, a Missouri teacher, said career and technical education is “closing learning gaps and filling holes in the workforce. It’s ridiculous to even think of walking back that kind of progress.”
When it comes to the fate of Dreamers, young immigrants brought here as infants or children, Trump has flip flopped multiple times. In his speech, he conflated the issues of law-abiding Dreamers with terrorist attacks, gangs and “open borders [that] have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.” He revisited his immigration framework, which has been roundly criticized by Republicans, Democrats and Dreamers. The proposal provides Dreamers a pathway to citizenship in exchange for sharply restricting family-based immigration and $25 billion for a border wall.
Trump’s shifting positions led to a federal government shutdown earlier this month. Unless the prsdient and Republican leaders act before March 5, the date Trump set for the expiration of the federal program that protects Dreamers, 800,000 young immigrants will be subject to arrest and deportation.