Education

SOTU2020: How Trump misses the Point of Today’s School Choice Movement

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Published 02/05/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 5 sec 

By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, director, and executive editor 

On February 4, a Tuesday evening at the U.S. Capitol, President Donald J. Trump delivered his fourth State of the Union Address (SOTU) to the 116th Congress and Nation just after 9 p.m. EST. The annual event televised live across communicative airways nationally. The majority of media outlets, large and small, described Trump’s speech as having “reality show reveals.” Candidly, I’m in full agreement with my media colleagues throughout the country. 

Trump and his Republican associates have a history of using Black human props in efforts to pander to Black voters when it’s convenient and crucial for them to win elections. To be fair — Democrats have partaken in this mischievous social scheme, too. 

Pointedly, Trump knows he needs a portion of the Black vote to seal his ambitions of “four more years” in the White House. He has gone so far as to use iconic Black celebrities such as musical artist Kayne West, former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman, and boxing promoter Don King as a means of boosting his street cred among the Black community. I find it sickening and hope my people don’t fall for his bullshit because the Republican Party doesn’t own the school reform movement of today — people of color do.

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I’ve never trusted Trump before or during his presidency because of his controversial, dog-whistle, racist politicking

So, when he says: 

TrumpSOTU: “The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

I find it unbelievable merely by the lack of diversity represented in Trump’s presidential cabinet and intern pool.  

A political leader lacking that much diversity, with people seated in positions of power and influence who govern a nation that encompasses multiple ethnicities, couldn’t possibly take a sincere interest in sharing power. Because that is the inevitable end with an educated populace. 

Nevertheless, Trump continued his address. 

TrumpSOTU: “Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 States have created school choice in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The programs are so popular that tens of thousands of students remain on waiting lists.”  

In full disclosure, I’m a supporter of great schools — be it traditionals, charters, or privates. I also believe that access to better educational opportunities is a civil right for Black, Brown, and poor kids facing barriers to upwardly mobile opportunities. 

Trump and the Republican Party’s position on school choice is probably the closest alignment I’ll ever have with the Grand Old Party (GOP).

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Due to the lack of diversity, however, that the GOP presents while claiming to champion today’s school choice movement, I can’t trust a president or a political party that personifies a White savior complex. No matter how much studying they have partaken, Republicans nor Democrats can presume to know what my or another’s communities’ needs are unless we are at the table to heavily influence the policies that will inevitably affect our sphere’s potential for generations. 

Do I believe the educational market should be saturated with charter and private schools? No! Every child doesn’t learn the same and shouldn’t forcibly attend a school that he or she doesn’t feel welcomed, supported, or nurtured; that can be traumatic for the child and a complete waste of time for all parties involved.

Meanwhile, pandering to African-American voters by seemingly exploiting a single Black mother and her Black child, Trump proceeded his speech, publicly awarding this Black scholar a tax-credit to the school of her family’s choice. 

I’m not quite sure how Secretary Besty DeVos defines educational freedom, but what I need her or the next Secretary of Education to do is fight for educational justice for Black and Brown children because that is what our communities need; that looks like funding and implementing policies that close academic gaps, addresses trauma, and thoroughly and accurately teaches Black and Brown kids about their rich cultural histories.    

TrumpSOTU: One of those students is Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grader from Philadelphia. Janiyah’s mom Stephanie is a single parent.” 

I have to stop and interject to tell you that I cringed when Trump stated to the Nation that Janiyah’s mother was a single parent because the public could visibly see that Stephanie was a Black woman. So why is this problematic? Black children carry a stigma of coming from fatherless homes. 

As a former principal and teacher at a community-founded charter school, many of our families choosing school choice had fully intact two-parent households with Black fathers who were actively involved in their children’s education. Because Trump’s cabinet and social circle lack diversity, he inadvertently reinforced and echoed that racist stigma at his address.   

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TrumpSOTU: She would do anything to give her daughter a better future. But last year, that future was put further out of reach when Pennsylvania’s Governor vetoed legislation to expand school choice for 50,000 children. Janiyah and Stephanie are in the gallery this evening. But there is more to their story. Janiyah, I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it is going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice! Now, I call on the Congress to give 1 million American children the same opportunity Janiyah has just received.”

While teacher unions and many Democrats fear that Republicans are trying to destroy traditional public education by claiming today’s school choice movement, I worry less about parents’ choices and more about who are the 1 million American children Trump is referencing? 

Having listened and reviewed the President’s SOTU transcript, he never dug beneath surface into the racial tension that continues bursting through America’s stitches; and as these excerpts relate to education, how Black and Brown children continue to perform academically behind their White American classmates in the double digits and even in progressive cities. When it actually comes down to implementing diversity and inclusive practices, both political parties still have work to do, especially the Republicans.   

Hence, high-quality education in American schools will never be accessible, equitable, and equal for Black and Brown children until this Nation discusses, identifies, faces, and collectively plays a role in dismantling the culture of White Supremacy. Until that happens, Black and Brown families will continue to be tossed around in the washing machine of American politics. 


Nehemiah FrankNehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, a digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Opportunity Tulsa. Other than the Black Wall Street Times, Frank’s work has been featured in Time Magazine, the Tulsa World, Education Post, Citizens Ed, and many other publications. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.

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