Does Trump’s Twitter Threat To Defund Schools Actually Mean Anything?

Sarah Midkiff

On Friday, President Donald Trump sent a pair of tweets accusing a nondescript number of “universities and school systems” of being “about Radical Left Indoctrination not Education.” Advancing his administration’s drive to turn education into a political wedge issue, Trump announced that he is having the Treasury Department reexamine the tax-exempt status and funding of universities and publicly funded schools. Trump threatened to take away the status and funding of any institution “if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues.”

“Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status… and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!” Trump wrote in his thread.

Trump’s tweets are the latest in a series of efforts from his administration to influence the state of education and re-open school systems in the Fall. Earlier this week, he rejected the advice of health specialists and threatened to strip schools of funding if they do not reopen ICE also announced this week that it would not issue visas to international students taking classes at schools hosting Fall term entirely online, which runs the risk of displacing upwards of one million students. 

But Trump’s specific threat to essentially defund some schools assumes a type of power he may not even have. Both public and private universities and colleges in the U.S. largely have tax-exempt status as an educational institution or through being an entity of the state government, according to the Association of American Universities. Trump’s complaints do not keep institutions from qualifying for tax-exempt status under current guidelines put forward by the Internal Revenue Service.

“Advocacy of a particular position or viewpoint,” according to the IRS, still falls under educational for tax purposes “if there is a sufficiently full and fair exposition of pertinent facts to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion.” Another snag in Trump’s plan is that federal law prohibits the IRS from targeting groups for regulatory scrutiny “based on their ideological beliefs.”

Still, this isn’t the first time Trump has complained about schools being driven by what he describes as a radical, leftist ideology. On the Fourth of July, he condemned “Cancel Culture” as a political weapon endangering the American way of life.

“In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance,” said Trump in his Mount Rushmore address. “If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.”

He continued saying, “Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains.”

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