In a move meant to follow through on promises he made to conservatives during the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that aims to rein in federal control of education in the United States.
The order, which Trump signed while flanked by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Vice President Mike Pence and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, initiates a process that could see substantial changes made to K-12 education in the United States, the clearest signal yet that Trump hopes to put his stamp on the Education Department before his 100th day in office on Saturday.
“We know that local communities do it best and know it best,” Trump said, calling the order “another critical step to restoring local control, which is so important.”
The order is tailor-made for the conservatives that animated Trump, many of whom have long complained about the federal government guiding education standards and practices in their local schools. It is also in line with DeVos’ long record advocating for more local control of schools, something the top Republican donor has done for decades through her political giving.
The order specifically calls for a 300-day review of education regulations on grades K-12 proposed and enacted by former President Barack Obama — and instructs DeVos, a longtime advocate for local control of education, to produce a report that details which actions she believes overreached.
It isn’t entirely clear, however, whether the order actually provides the education secretary with more power.
“We will make those decisions once the report has concluded,” a White House official said, after being asked how the order empowers DeVos. At the end of the review, according to the order, DeVos will be asked to “rescind or revise any regulations that are identified” as oversteps.
In particular, the order asks for DeVos to review the Every Student Succeeds Act, an Obama-era education law, and Common Core, education standards that were initially adopted by most states but have drawn the ire of conservative critics in recent years.
Democrats slammed the executive order as nothing more than empty rhetoric on Wednesday, with a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee flatly saying, “this EO changes absolutely nothing.”
“Trump isn’t signing it to actually improve education for American students, he is doing it to put a fake point on the board within his first 100 days because he doesn’t have any accomplishments of significance,” said Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.
The executive order is the 28th Trump has signed since taking office in January, more than any president in the last 72 years.
“Previous administrations have wrongly forced states and schools to comply with federal whims and dictates for what our kids are taught,” Trump said Wednesday. “The time has come to empower teachers and parents to make the decisions that help their students achieve success.”
DeVos, in her January confirmation hearing, told senators that “it won’t be Washington, DC, that unlocks our nation’s potential, nor a bigger bureaucracy, tougher mandates or a federal agency.”
“The answer,” DeVos said, “is local control and listening to parents, students, and teachers.”