Work Inside President Trump’s Ed Department? No Way, Say Some Policy Experts and Advocates
Updated on November 17th.
After eight years of a Democrat as President, conservative policy experts should be eager to join the incoming Republican administration. However, in the field of education, some analysts and advocates for school choice are hesitant to work for Donald Trump. This raises concerns about whether the new president can successfully fill key positions with qualified staff.
Alexander Holt, a conservative higher-education policy analyst at the New America Foundation, states that he could never work for the Trump administration due to the president’s words and actions. Holt explains, "I cannot morally justify myself working for somebody who has said and done the things he has."
Robin Lake from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which generally supports school choice initiatives, also expresses her unwillingness to work for the Trump administration. She notes that many individuals she knows share the same hesitations. Lake says, "Most people I know would not automatically jump on board. They would have their own personal questions to work through, and for some, these questions would be significant."
Michael Petrilli, the President of the right-of-center education think tank Fordham Institute, who worked for the Department of Education under President George W. Bush, confirms that he would not work for Trump. However, all three individuals mention that they would be willing to provide advice to the next administration. Other experts are more optimistic about Trump’s ability to attract talented individuals.
Martin West, a researcher at Harvard University and former advisor to Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, suggests that there are reservations among the education policy community based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric. West hopes that the Department of Education can be staffed with competent officials because important decisions need to be made.
Max Eden from the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, believes that while some may choose to remain on the sidelines, Trump will have no trouble recruiting top talent. Eden states, "From the perspective of a conservative education reformer, this administration presents a tremendous opportunity… It will depend on his appointees, and I believe that many great individuals will answer the call."
Petrilli also believes that there are plenty of intelligent and talented people who would agree to work in the Trump administration. Lake agrees, stating, "Based on what I gather, there are many great people who would be willing to overcome personal distaste or concerns in order to address important issues in education."
However, the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and its allies do not share the same sentiment. DFER, which supported education reform policies under President Obama, released a statement advising that no Democrats serve under a Trump presidency. Shavar Jeffries, the President of DFER, explains, "DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education in this new administration. By doing so, that individual would become an agent for an agenda that contradicts progressive values and poses a serious threat to our nation’s most vulnerable children."
Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, a former Democratic New York City councilwoman, announced that she would not work for a Trump administration after meeting with the president-elect. However, she expressed willingness to offer advice.
Is this a call to serve or a moral dilemma?
"A month ago, there was a bigger question about whether there would be many individuals unwilling to work for the Trump administration," says a former Republican federal education official who prefers to remain anonymous to preserve a positive relationship. "Now that it has transitioned from a hypothetical Trump administration to a real one, it seems like more people have made the decision to consider it as public service. If asked to serve, they would do so."
Nevertheless, the former official predicts that there may still be holdouts. "There is a genuine question about whether some individuals will decide that they cannot serve with a clear conscience. I’m unsure if this will be 1 percent or 50 percent of people, but there will certainly be some."
In Holt’s personal opinion, he expressed his reluctance to work for an administration that would potentially discriminate against an entire religious group when it comes to entering the United States. He stated that he would not work for Trump under any circumstances, but he acknowledged that the decision may be different for a candidate for secretary of education who would have more influence over policy making. On the other hand, some conservatives, including John Bailey, who previously worked for Jeb Bush’s organization ExcelinED, also shared their doubts about working for Trump due to their concerns about his lack of defined goals and his dismissal of various important groups such as women, immigrants, and minorities.
There are reports suggesting that the Education Department may experience a significant loss of experienced staff members who are unable to support a Trump administration. Certain employees, with decades of knowledge and expertise, are considering leaving their positions. As a result, there may be a brain drain within the department.
The transition of power to the incoming administration has led to speculation about who will become the secretary of education. Several candidates are being considered, including Gerard Robinson from the American Enterprise Institute, Bill Evers from the Hoover Institution, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Additionally, Trump is collaborating with the American Federation for Children, an organization that advocates for charter schools and vouchers. Betsy DeVos and Kevin Chavous, both top officials of the organization, are reportedly being considered for the position of education secretary.
Some individuals have expressed their interest in the role, such as Luke Messer, an Indiana congressman, who stated that he would be open to serving if considered. However, Ben Carson, who was also rumored to be a candidate, declined any role in the administration citing his lack of government experience and his desire to avoid hindering the presidency.
Requests for comments from the Trump transition team went unanswered.
Please note: Editor-in-Chief Campbell Brown has affiliations with the American Federation for Children and the Success Academy Charter Schools. Betsy DeVos is the chair of AFC’s board and The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation provides funding to . The American Federation for Children sponsored ’s 2015 education election summit.