#SOTU should remind voters to hold politicians accountable for failing students, public schools

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by Brian Washington

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When President Trump delivers his State of the Union address tomorrow, do not expect anything that might boast of a positive future for public schools or the 94 percent of the nation’s students who depend on them.

After all, President Trump gave us Betsy DeVos, the most unqualified education secretary in the nation’s history. DeVos has used her vast wealth to bankroll state, local, and federal candidates who support voucher schemes, which use your tax dollars to subsidize private school tuition for a small select few. More importantly, they drain hundreds of millions of dollars away from public schools, which, in most cases, are already underfunded.

But even if Trump mentions no new plans tomorrow for public education, his policies over the last year speak volumes and raise the question, “Are students better off today than they were a year ago?”

Education activists answer no, for a variety of reasons. We already mentioned Betsy DeVos, but do not forget about that GOP tax plan Congress just passed. It favors corporations and the wealthy at the expense of students, public education, and working families.

Because of the GOP tax plan, this nation is looking at up to $152 billion in public school funding cuts at the state and local levels—funding cuts that will affect our students in profound and negative ways. It also puts 130,000 education jobs at risk. To make matters worse, lawmakers tucked away a voucher scheme inside the plan, which sends a strong message that this administration has no interest or desire in investing in public education.

And what about the 600,000 high school and college students known as the DACA Dreamers? Are they better off? Trump’s policies have failed them as well. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program gave Dreamers, brought to this country as children by their undocumented immigrant parents, renewable permission to study and work in the United States. However, last year, in a cruel, unnecessary, and anti-immigrant move, Trump revoked their protected status under the program. And now, each day, 120 DACA recipients become vulnerable to deportation—young children living under the constant fear that they will have to leave the only country they have ever called home.

However, here is the good news about tomorrow’s State of the Union address. It serves as a reminder to education activists nationwide that in November we get to hold accountable those elected officials who have supported policies, like the ones mentioned earlier, that have been so detrimental to students, public schools, and working families. The midterm elections give us an opportunity to elect education champions up and down the ballot—lawmakers who are going to stand up for strong public schools.

It already happened in New Jersey and Virginia last year. Election outcomes from those two states—from governor races all the way down to local school board contests—show that your vote can and will make a difference in November. So now is not the time to get discouraged about what Trump says or doesn’t say, especially tomorrow. Instead, make a commitment to vote in November. Decide now to work to get education champions elected in your state. We owe it to our communities to fight for those lawmakers who will fight for our students’ futures and the ideals and principles that make this nation great.

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