Transgender bathroom 'guidance' could be last straw: Obama administration has given families turning to alternatives to public school another push.
Three years ago President Obama responded to a question from a White House reporter about why he was unable to force congressional leaders to agree on a measure to replace sequestration. “I am not a dictator,” he said.
With his administration’s order that every public school in America must make accommodations in bathrooms and locker rooms for children born as one sex but who “identify” as another sex, the president apparently has changed his mind even threatening to cutoff federal funds to states that refuse to comply.
This comes just after a federal judge ruled the administration is violating the Constitution by spending money to subsidize health insurers without an appropriation from Congress. It doesn’t matter to Obama, who in his waning months in office acts as if he is bigger and more important than the Constitution. If our founding document conflicts with his agenda, he ignores it, or twists it to reflect how he thinks it should read. Obama has changed his mind on the "dictator" question.
Before getting to the issue that has outraged governors in North Carolina and Texas — and others coming soon — consider where this can lead.
The administration is using for its authority Title IX, which has its roots in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was codified in education amendments in 1972. The key phrase reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
As with so many other laws, that phrasing has been interpreted to mean whatever this administration wants it to mean and to offer “protection” to any behavior the administration defines as a discriminated against “class.”
Because this is a directive and not law, a President Trump, or any future president, could reverse it. It is doubtful that any but the most liberal states are likely to comply.
Secular progressives are going to have a difficult time selling this to Middle America, especially in key states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida where religious and conservative voters make up significant portions of the population. Many voters might legitimately wonder why this issue is more important than the large number of college graduates who can’t find a job or who are working at lower-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree — or beating the Islamic State.
Perhaps America’s dictator has provided the last straw for many parents. Overall enrollment in alternatives to traditional public schools, such as secular and religious private schools and home-schools, has increased in recent years, in part due to concern about what is being taught — and not taught — in public schools. More parents might take advantage of private education, especially if they could afford it, particularly in urban areas. More states than ever are offering voucher programs. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice publishes an annual “The ABC’s of School Choice: The comprehensive guide to every private school choice program in America” that is worth consulting.
Take one city — Denver — as an example of what can happen when children are allowed to escape failing and unsafe public schools. According to David Osborne in Education Next, "a journal of opinion and research,” since 2008, Denver Public Schools began expanding choice and as a result has markedly increased its on-time graduation rate from less than 39% in 2007 to 65% last year. More impressive is the achievement rate of African-American students who, as Osborne writes, “now take advanced math classes at the same rate as whites, while Hispanics lag only 1 percentage point.”
Perhaps this transgender bathroom issue will be the final straw in ending the education monopoly in the U.S. The secular left is going to have a difficult time selling the president’s diktat to the public. Donald Trump is right when he says this should be an issue for the states and not the federal government.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist and member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors.