This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
President-elect Donald Trump's candidacy was most known for hard-line stances on immigration, trade and divisive rhetoric on race, religion and gender.
Less clear is what approach the nation's 45th president will take toward schooling.
"Donald Trump barely mentioned public education on the campaign trail," said Heidi Matthews, Utah Education Association president.
Like many Republicans, Trump is critical of Common Core State Standards a "total disaster," he said while supporting free-market education approaches such as vouchers, charter schools and private schools.
Trump also has advocated dismantling or reducing the Department of Education, which oversees federal laws such as Title I and Title IX that require equal opportunity for students independent of income levels and gender, respectively.
Changes to federal law require congressional approval. But appointing the next secretary of education and other leadership positions within the department will give Trump considerable executive power to revise or reverse agendas for special education, campus sexual assault and for-profit career colleges.
"My hope is that as President-elect Trump and his team formulate education policies," Matthews said, "they will keep in mind the federal government's fundamental role in education to ensure that all students have the opportunity for a high-quality education."
State control • Earlier this month, Trump released a "100-day action plan" detailing his immediate priorities after the inauguration.
Included in that list is the School Choice And Education Opportunity Act, which would establish vouchers or a similar program to direct public funding to private education providers, end the Common Core State Standards, expand vocational and technical education and make higher education more affordable.
Utah already promotes school choice through charter schools and open-enrollment laws, noted Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.
He did not anticipate a Trump presidency accelerating the expansion of charters in the state, or forcing vouchers on the same Utah voters who rejected them in 2007. But he welcomed the president-elect's tone on student and parental rights.
"Charter parents and charter teachers are pleased to have someone in the White House willing to embrace the choice and the opportunity that charter schools and [school choice] offer," he said. And while Trump speaks favorably of ending the Department of Education, much of the department's authority was already limited in December, when Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
The bipartisan bill included several provisions in reaction to the Obama administration, including a prohibition on the secretary of education influencing grade-level standards adopted by states.
"Trump really can't do much, unilaterally, to impact Common Core or school choice," said Mary Burbank, Weber State University assistant dean for teacher education. "ESSA makes the federal role much weaker, regardless of who the president is."
And any effort to abolish the department entirely, Burbank said, would be slowed by congressional action and the interconnectivity of bureaucratic agencies.
"The laundry list of areas that are connected to the Department of Education are massive," Burbank said.
The Department of Education serves as the oversight authority on federal education programs, like special education and Title I, which provides supplemental funding to schools with high levels of poverty. Utah receives roughly $200 million combined from those two programs. While sanctions are rarely imposed, the threat of pulling back those dollars is frequently employed to compel school improvement and compliance.
Ann White, Utah's Title I director, said ESSA returns a significant degree of procedural authority back to the states. That, she said, provides some consistency as the Department of Education changes hands.
"The state is in a stronger position than ever before to handle its education," she said.
Van Tassell said Utah educators are going to serve children independent of the Department of Education. "We're going to meet those needs because we want to make sure that Utah's students get the education they need," he said, "not because there is somebody breathing down our necks."
Some Trump critics and education advocates say oversight is still needed, and questioned whether a neglected or understaffed Department of Education would lead to inadequate services and leave students without recourse.
Civil rights oversight • The federal government has been investigating Westminster College's handling of sexual-assault complaints for nearly two years.
In January 2015, the east Salt Lake City private school was added to a list of fewer than 100 higher education institutions being examined by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for potential violations of Title IX, a federal law that requires schools to swiftly investigate reports of sexual assault.
That number now has mushroomed to more than 200, and two other Utah schools the University of Utah and Brigham Young University have joined the list.
While the number of sexual-violence complaints increased nearly threefold between 1980 and 2014, the number of OCR employees has been slashed in half, causing some investigations to stretch on for years.
That problem could worsen if numerous comments made by Trump's advisers during the campaign for example, how the civil rights office is unnecessary bear out.
Because Title IX and OCR are written into statute, it would be difficult to eliminate either. But targeting the department's funding would still make a "devastating" impact on protections for victims of sexual violence and gender discrimination, warned S. Daniel Carter, board secretary of SurvJustice, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to survivors of sexual violence.
"Taking away funding that allows [the department] to enforce those provisions would threaten the rights of the people those laws are intended to protect," he said. "Denying people their civil rights denies them access to education."
OCR isn't limited to higher education or sexual assault. Salt Lake City School District faces five separate investigations on claims of discrimination.
In a statement, OCR said it would not "speculate on what sort of policies President-elect Trump may choose to prioritize or pursue."
Trump also could issue new sexual-assault guidance to replace that issued by the Obama administration in 2011.
The "Dear Colleague" letter urged colleges to improve their investigation and adjudication of sexual assaults of their students. It established "preponderance of evidence" as the burden of proof in deciding whether an accused student has broken sexual-misconduct policies, the threshold being "more likely than not" instead of the "beyond a reasonable doubt" used in criminal cases.
If the burden of proof is changed, Carter anticipates major pushback from universities across the country that already were using a relaxed burden of proof before 2011.
Eliminating the preponderance of evidence standard "would be some type of nightmare scenario," Carter said. "That would have a devastating ability on the capacity of institutions of higher education to protect their campuses and survivors."
Other Dear Colleague letters routinely sent out by administrators to provide clarity on issues such as civil rights could be up revised or reversed, Van Tassell pointed out. Republicans took issue with a recent directive instructing schools to allow transgender students access to facilities that match their gender identity.
"We could certainly see some changes," he said, "but everything else is obviously extraordinarily speculative."
For-profit higher ed • One person bullish about the future of education is Eric Juhlin, CEO of Center for Excellence in Higher Education, or CEHE.
Juhlin's organization owns a chain of private career colleges, including Utah's Stevens-Henager College, and for months has been fighting the Department of Education about a recent ruling that denied nonprofit status to CEHE's campuses.
"We're shocked, but we're very pleased by the election results," Juhlin said. "The systematic, coordinated attack on the for-profit sector that has been in place under this administration is absolutely going to change."
Trump himself owned Trump Universtiy, a for-profit company that offered educational real estate seminars. On Friday, the president-elect announced he would pay $25 million to settle three lawsuits that accused Trump University of defrauding students.
A Trump-appointed education secretary, working with a Republican-controlled Congress, Juhlin said, is likely to support free-market principles in higher education and the role private organizations play in training students for future careers.
"It's pretty much a guarantee that the new [education] secretary, whoever he or she is, is certainly going to have a very different mindset relative to how education should move forward," Juhlin said.
Under Secretary Arne Duncan, and now Secretary John King, the Department of Education was known for being skeptical of, and often challenging, the operations of private, for-profit colleges and leveraging the weight of the department to compel change.
That approach contributed to the closure of roughly 130 ITT Technical Institute campuses in September. And CEHE is suing the Department of Education, while also requesting a formal reconsideration of its schools' for-profit status.
Juhlin said many of the department's rules are "asinine" in the way they apply different standards to private and public institutions of higher education.
He noted the so-called "90-10" rule, which limits how much of a for-profit school's cash can be derived from federal student aid, as well as gainful employment, which places penalties on programs that leave students in high levels of debt compared with their starting salary after graduation.
Gainful employment, Juhlin said, has forced a number of private schools to close programs like culinary arts, while similar programs at community colleges are allowed to function with impunity.
"It makes no sense to say just because I pay taxes and [Salt Lake Community College] doesn't pay taxes, my program is somehow bad," Juhlin said. "I think that common-sense logic is going to prevail under the new administration."