Blink and You Missed It: Besides a One-Sentence Call to ‘Pass School Choice,’ K-12 Education Is Notably Absent From President Trump’s State of the Union
The State of the Union address given by President Donald Trump on Tuesday paid little attention to K-12 education. The president only mentioned the issue once, without providing any details. This echoed his previous address to Congress in 2017, where he called on lawmakers to pass a bill allowing students to choose the school they want to attend, regardless of the type. The only significant change to federal school choice law during Trump’s administration was the expansion of tax-advantaged savings accounts to cover private K-12 tuition.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised Trump’s advocacy for school choice and expressed her willingness to work with Congress on the issue. She emphasized that the freedom to choose the right education should not be limited to the privileged, but should be accessible to all students.
In contrast, the Democrats’ response, delivered by Stacey Abrams, touched on various K-12 education-related topics, including school safety, the cost of higher education, high-quality schools, and teacher pay. Abrams emphasized the importance of providing safe schools and equal standards for all children, regardless of their location. She also called for new gun safety measures and greater support for educators.
While Trump’s speech focused on other major issues, such as immigration and infrastructure, his remarks lacked substantive discussion on education. His immigration discussion revolved around enforcement, border security, and the construction of a border wall with Mexico. He did not address the fate of the DACA program, which protects young undocumented immigrants. Trump claimed that "mass illegal immigration" is straining schools, although a Supreme Court ruling in 1982 prohibits discrimination in K-12 education based on immigration status.
Regarding infrastructure spending, Trump emphasized the need for bipartisan unity, but did not specifically include schools in his proposals. Democrats have argued that any legislation to rebuild infrastructure should also address the issue of deteriorating educational facilities.
Education did receive some attention during the State of the Union address through the presence of certain guests in the House chamber. Both Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited parents of students killed in the Parkland shooting, while the president also invited a middle school student who claimed to be bullied due to his last name. Critics pointed out the irony of this invitation considering the president’s own history of Twitter insults and the rise of bullying incidents since his election.
Presidential addresses have rarely highlighted education as a prominent issue. Last year, DACA was the only school-related topic discussed by Trump. In contrast, former President Barack Obama used State of the Union addresses to introduce significant initiatives related to education, such as a free community college program in 2015 and a pre-K expansion in 2013, although these initiatives did not become law.
Many of the Trump administration’s major K-12 proposals, such as the voucher program, have been presented through the annual budget requests. However, the government shutdown caused a delay in the release of Trump’s budget proposal, which is now expected in mid-March, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
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