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Trump would make US education system less fair, first lady Jill Biden argues in Phoenix

First lady Jill Biden criticized former President Donald Trump, her husband’s rival in this year’s presidential election, for his efforts in office to direct public money toward private education.

Speaking in Phoenix on Friday, she connected the topic to the former president's wider platform on education and labor policy.

In a world "where Donald Trump is reelected, we get chaos and division. A world in which public schools are privatized and their funding is gutted. Teachers' unions are marginalized. Lesson plans are censored. And books are banned,” she said at the Arizona Education Association’s annual meeting at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel.

Governed mostly at the state and local level, education policy has not been a major focus of the 2024 presidential campaign so far. But the two candidates have starkly contrasting visions and track records on the issue.

Candidates differ widely in education policy

While in office, Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, sought to create federal vouchers for private schools and boost funding for charter schools, though Congress nixed some of her most far-reaching proposals.

Republicans have pursued similar policies at the state level, leaving Arizona with one of the largest school voucher programs in the nation.

Voucher supporters have argued that competition from private schools improves the quality of education overall, and that offering poor families the opportunity to choose to attend a private school is a matter of social justice. Critics say it drains public resources and fails to address disparities in public schooling.

“Donald Trump does not want to strengthen our public education system. He wants to destroy it. Just look at who he appointed to be Education Secretary,” the first lady said, pointing to DeVos' longtime advocacy for school voucher programs.

"Here in Arizona, you're battling against school vouchers and a state legislature that's more interested in dividing educators and parents than addressing things like educator pay or classroom size," she said.

Trump’s campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.Trump has called for closing the U.S. Department of Education altogether. He wants to turn over education to the states, which already control funding and school curriculum, and give parents more of a say in running schools.

President Joe Biden, on the other hand, has steered the country’s education system more through federal action and investment in public schools.

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