President Trump was in Texas on Thursday, where he was part of a discussion about race and policing, and used the opportunity to take new shots at public schools.

At Gateway Church in Dallas, Trump met with law enforcement officials, pastors and business owners and talked about his four-point plan to “build safety and opportunity and dignity” for communities of color. He did not discuss why the police chief, sheriff and district attorney of Dallas — all of whom are African Americans, were not invited to the event focused on injustice and policing.

Trump bashed public schools, calling them “bad government schools” in which African Americans get “trapped” — although Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said at the same event that it was important for schools to reopen safely as soon as possible. Trump himself has said repeatedly that schools should open after being closed for months during the covid-19 pandemic.

Here are the four points that Trump spoke about on Thursday:

  • Pursue “economic development in minority communities.”
  • Confront “health-care disparities, including addressing chronic conditions and investing substantial sums in minority-serving medical institutions.”
  • “Encourage police departments nationwide to meet the most current professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for de-escalation.”

And the fourth, not surprisingly, was urging Congress to “enact school choice,” which in Trump’s lexicon means his proposal to spend up to $5 billion on tax credits for individuals and groups who donate to help children attend private and religious schools.

He said, according to a transcript provided by the White House:

Today, politicians make false charges, and they’re trying to distract from their own failed records. They have some very bad records. And these are usually the ones that cause the problems or can’t solve the problems. These are the same politicians who shipped our jobs away and took tremendous advantage of all Americans. But African American middle class — so much of that wealth and that money and those jobs went to China and other countries. And they get trapped. They get trapped. They get trapped in a government morass. They get trapped in bad government schools.

He then said:

We’re renewing our call on Congress to finally enact school choice now. School choice is a big deal — (applause) — because access to education is the civil rights issue of our time. And I’ve heard that for the last, I would say, year. But it really is; it’s the civil rights issue of our time. When you can have children go to a school where their parents want them to go. And it creates competition. And other schools fight harder because, all of a sudden, they say, “Wow. We’re losing it. We have to fight hard.” It gets better in so many different ways.
But there are groups of people against that. You have unions against it. You have others against it. And they’re not against it for the right reasons. They’re against it for a lot of the wrong reasons. And we’re going to get that straightened out. Now, we’ve done a lot of it. We’ve had tremendous success with choice.

Let’s be clear about what Trump means when he talks about “school choice.” He has said his top education priority is expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, and he wants the public to pay, even for private and religious school education. His efforts to persuade Congress to pass his Education Freedom Scholarships plan have been repeatedly rebuffed — even in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump refers to public schools as “government schools” as a pejorative, as does Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her education allies who are largely suspicious of public institutions, see government as a problem rather than a solution and oppose unions. They believe schools should be operated like businesses rather than civic institutions, falsely claiming that private sector and competition always produce better results.

Later in the discussion, he asked Adams to talk about the covid-19 pandemic and said it was important for students to return safely to schools (yes, the ones Trump had just bashed). Adams said:

So we want to reopen safely. We also have to remember that being shut down has health consequences beyond COVID. We know that being out of school is bad for your health. We need to get our kids back in school safely. (Laughter and applause.) I have a 15-, a 14-, and a 10-year-old. And so, can you tell I’ve been saying that a lot? (Laughter.)