President-elect Donald Trump’s team has actively switched into transition mode since the election last week, vetting and meeting with potential candidates to fill cabinet and agency positions. Rumors are flying over who will be chosen to lead the federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
So far, a number of the names rumored to be in the running for Secretary of Education have been individuals with experience in K-12 education and has included proponents of school choice such as Indiana Congressman Luke Messer (R-IN)(one of Messer’s staffers advised Trump’s campaign on K-12 education issues and helped to craft Trump’s $20 billion school choice proposal), former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee who broke with the Democratic Party in 2013 over her views on school vouchers, and two leaders from the school choice advocacy organization the American Federation for Children Betsy DeVos and Kevin Chavous.
Trump is reportedly considering two former State chiefs as well. Tony Bennett previously served as a State chief in Indiana and supports charter school expansion, school vouchers, and teacher evaluations based on student outcomes. However, he is also a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards, which is inconsistent with Trump’s platform. In addition, former State Chief for Virginia and Florida Gerard Robinson currently works as a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and serves on Trump’s transition team for education. Another potential pick from Trump’s transition team could be Williamson Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who served in a top role at ED under President George W. Bush. Finally, an additional candidate with ties to Indiana reportedly under consideration includes former Indiana Governor and current President of Purdue University Mitch Daniels.
Ben Carson was initially suspected to be on the list of potential nominees for Secretary of Education, but Carson notified the public this week that he does not wish to take any cabinet position under Trump, instead hoping to assist on multiple policy issues from the outside.
As for the USDA, the incoming Secretary could shape the future of school nutrition, potentially dismantling First Lady Michelle Obama’s stringent work to make school meals healthier for children. Trump has selected Michael Torrey to head food and agriculture issues on his transition team – a Capitol Hill insider with significant ties to the soda lobby – which may be an indication of Trump’s views on nutrition policies. The American Beverage Association has paid Torrey’s firm nearly $800,000 in the past four years.
Individuals in the running to head USDA include current Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback and three former governors, including Dave Heineman of Nebraska, Sonny Perdue of Georgia, and Rick Perry of Texas. In addition, Sid Miller, the current Secretary of Agriculture in Texas, is said to be under consideration but has faced controversy in recent days following an offensive tweet from his campaign’s account about Hillary Clinton. Kip Tom, a farmer who ran for Congress in Indiana but was defeated in the primary, and Bruce Rastetter, a major Republican donor in Iowa, are on the list of potential candidates as well.
President-elect Trump has provided little insight into his plans for K-12 or higher education; therefore, selections for Secretary of Education and Agriculture will be an important indicator of where Trump intends to take education and school nutrition policy during his time in office.
Alyson Klein, “Who Could Be Donald Trump’s Education Secretary?” Education Week: Politics K-12, November 15, 2016.
Andrew Restuccia, “Donald Trump’s Cabinet-in-waiting: What we know so far,” Politico, November 17, 2016.
Chase Purdy, “As he prepares to take power, Donald Trump’s point man for food issues is a veteran Big Soda lobbyist,” Quartz, November 10, 2016.