(Updated 1/5/2017) President-elect Donald J. Trump has a plan for Black America. However, the plan is tone deaf and pays little attention to the actual needs and desires of the community. In many ways they are just a rearticulation of his larger plans for the nation.
In his outreach to African Americans, Donald Trump is touting his support for school choice as a departure from traditional failings in public education which have so badly affected Black youth. Some have gone as far as to call school choice the civil rights issue of our time. The substandard education that has historically been offered to African American students has in many cases been disturbing. Trump and his surrogates are not wrong for supporting Charter schools, vouchers, and school choice. The problem is they are positing it as a cure all for the ills of urban education and the achievement gap.
School choice has some undeniably excellent qualities. It could potentially not only rise teacher accountability, but teacher salaries along with it. Projections say universal school choice could raise teacher salaries by as much as $12,000 annually in Houston http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=24833.
Charter schools have produced excellent results in many parts of the country including the nation’s capitol. According to US News and World Report, “ CREDO (Center for Research on Educational Outcomes) found that charter students gained the equivalent of 72 days of extra learning per year in reading, 101 in math, compared to traditional public students” http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/03/16/why-charter-schools-work-or-dont. Proponents of school choice and charters tout the results in New Orleans which has transformed its educational structure to where 92.4% of students attend charter schools. New Orleans has experienced promising spikes in graduation rates and college admission in a majority Black city where the child poverty rate is 39%.
However, opponents can point out that Louisiana is still the “worse school system in America”, largely due to its largest city. The state’s average ACT scores rank 47th in nation, which opponents of charters could argue that though students are graduating in high number, they are not prepared for collegiate level work. Opponents also cite Detroit as an example where school choice and charters replaced the existing public education system https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/07/opinion-school-choice-isnt-all-its-cracked-up-to-be/. Schools open and close like storefront businesses with teachers and administrators losing their jobs. Of all the big city school systems in the country, none performers lower than Detroit. Betsy Devos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education is ironically from Michigan and advocated for school choice and charters through large political donations. The result of her efforts has been questionable. According to CNN, almost half of the charter schools in Michigan were ranked amongst the countries worst schools. The Detroit Public School Community District’s students are 96% Black or Latino. One can make a strong argument that the Devos system is failing Black and Brown children and runs the risk of taking that failure nationwide.
Conservatives love charters because they operate at a lower cost, but they still have a business model. In other words if they aren’t generating revenue, they run the risk of closing. Also, charters have a reputation for unfair disciplinary practices. While 17% of charters educate children better than public schools (a high or low number depending on your expectations), they also expel problem students to achieve those results. Ultimately, some children will be left behind. School choice in many ways operates on the assumption that some children are worthy of an excellent education. It also allows for wealthy private schools to depend on public taxpayer subsidies rather than private scholarships that should come from their endowments. Public schools, however, run the risk of being defunded.
The truth of the matter is school choice will fix some problems, but potentially create new ones. Trump’s new deal for Black America does not address fundamental issues that affect Black America.
Donald Trump promises safe communities by places more law enforcement officials in African American neighborhoods, without addressing the fractured relationship between the community and police. Their attempt to clean up the street could very well be interpreted as an occupation and their desire to rid the community of “drug dealers” and “gang members could turn into an assault on young Black and brown males. Drug dealers don’t typically wear signs that say they are drug dealers, and one can actually be a member of a street organization and not be involved in criminal activity. He would be better served working police reform and mentorship programs to create successful partnerships between law enforcement and communities.
President-elect Trump promises equal treatment under the law, and the abandonment of a two tiered criminal justice system, but gives hardly any details into how he plans to achieve this end. In addition, knowing that Jeff Sessions may be the next Attorney General makes African Americans and other people of color feel frightened. Sessions called the Voting Rights Act, which was and remains an important Civil Rights protection literally won with the blood of Black people in his home state of Alabama, a “piece of intrusive legislation”. Sesssions also allegedly called the NAACP and the SCLC, Dr. King’s organization, “un-American” . According to a former employee, Sessions was against “okay” with the most murderous terrorist group in American history, the Ku Klux Klan, until he found out some were marijuana smokers.
Trump wants to stop illegal immigration, and makes his case to African Americans that this action would be to their benefit. However, the idea that undocumented immigrants are the primary obstacle to African American employment has long been debunked. African Americans struggle with unemployment and underemployment at all levels, including the highly educated. Furthermore, Blacks have had high levels of unemployment since before undocumented immigration was an issue. African American unemployment is high and has been for decades due to institutional racism.
The next administration also claims to want to protect the African American church. He gives neither details on how the church was in jeopardy in the first place, nor how his administration will protect it. This also sounds suspicious, when Senator Sessions is also alleged to have made negative comments about the National Council of Churches http://www.salon.com/2016/11/19/two-peas-in-a-racist-pod-jeff-sessions-alarming-history-of-opposing-civil-rights_partner/.
Donald Trump’s plan makes consistent references to the inner city as a euphemism for Black. However, African Americans are leaving the inner cities in record number. Trump’s plan should be much broader than just focusing on inner cities.
In the end, Trump’s plan shows he listens only to those who echo what he already thought. He doesn’t address police reform and instead talks about lowering crime. If the President elect is sincere, he will convene African Americans and Latinos from both sides of the political spectrum and do more listening as to what the concerns of the communities are and how the Trump Administration can assist.
Jason Nichols is a full-time lecturer in the African American studies department at the University of Maryland College Park and the current editor-in-chief of Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture, the first peer-reviewed journal of hip-hop studies.