Major education news outlet Education Week reported that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has appointed two new staffers to his “presidential transition team for education”: the Hoover Institution’s Williamson Evers and the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Gerard Robinson. Both Evers and Robinson are well-connected in the pro-privatization education policy sphere and affiliated with several groups devoted to weakening public schools.
In a September 19 article, Education Week reported that multiple sources confirmed the addition of Evers and Robinson to Trump’s education transition team. Both Evers and Robinson have previously served in Republican administrations and are connected to prominent corporate- and dark-money-fueled groups in the education policy landscape. As Education Week explained:
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has picked Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to be on his presidential transition team for education, according to multiple sources.
Evers served as an assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Education from 2007 to 2009, and also was an adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in 2007 under President George W. Bush. Robinson served as Florida's education commissioner from 2011 to 2012, and has also served as Virginia's education secretary and as the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
The policies backed by Trump, Evers, and Robinson -- often cloaked in the language of so-called “school choice” -- have earned the support of corporate and private billionaire funders eager to profit off students, an interest Trump himself has pursued through his now-defunct and allegedly fraudulent Trump University business. Among education groups funded largely by right-wing dark money to drum up support for education privatization are three directly connected to Evers and Robinson.
Evers is a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which publishes the education policy journal Education Next and has received thousands in funding from the anti-union, right-wing Bradley Foundation to support a K-12 education “taskforce.” Evers’ work at the Hoover Institution has largely focused on his opposition to the Common Core State Standards and his conservative interpretation of the federal government’s limited role in shaping education policies. Trump has both egregiously misrepresented the standards and confused the parameters of federal education policy on the campaign trail, namely by repeatedly and incorrectly asserting that he would abolish the Common Core as president.
Robinson is a resident fellow at the conservative right-wing think tank AEI, which has received millions in funding from conservative donors such as dark-money conduit DonorsTrust, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, to support general operations and education-related research. AEI, “one of the country’s main bastions of neoconservatism,” frequently publishes education research defending voucher programs that drain money from public schools (similar to Trump’s recent education policy proposals) and online education programs that allow private companies to profit off students with little oversight. Robinson’s tenure at AEI has included Bradley Foundation-funded work on the “future of American society and the role education plays in it” and efforts to push a conservative view on racial justice in education across mainstream and right-wing media outlets.
Robinson also previously led the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a group that receives substantial funding from conservative donors to make the case for privatized educational policies as a means for racial equity. Both AEI and BAEO work closely with a number of other pro-privatization nonprofits and think tanks such as the anti-union American Federation for Children and the Koch-affiliated State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks.
Evers’ and Robinson’s research and affiliations reveal a commitment to pro-education privatization policies that should come as no surprise -- they perfectly align with Trump’s support for expanding opportunities to open up the public school system to market competition and private, for-profit actors with little regulation. These recent appointments reveal the Trump campaign’s active desire to operate solidly within the “education reform” echo chamber built, funded, and fueled by dark-money conservative activists.