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Budget & Finance

Four Things to Watch for in Trump’s 2020 Spending Plan for Schools

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 10, 2019 3 min read
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It’s that time of (federal fiscal) year again.

This week, President Donald Trump is due to release his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. It will be the third time Trump makes a pitch for how much to spend—or whether to spend money at all—on things ranging from school choice and school safety to teacher training and civil rights enforcement.

Are you getting excited already? Well, either way: We put together a list of things to keep in mind before the president releases his blueprint for fiscal 2020, which will start Oct. 1.

1. Will Trump Repeat His Pushes for School Choice and Cuts?

Trump is not a big fan of federal education spending. He proposed slashing the department’s budget by 13.5 percent in fiscal 2018 and by 5 percent in fiscal 2019.

Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have sought to eliminate federal programs for after school and teacher professional development, as well as a block grant created under the Every Student Succeeds Act to help students become more well-rounded. Simultaneously, Trump and DeVos included expanded federal support for school choice in both previous fiscal blueprints; for example, they wanted to create a new choice program under Title I in fiscal 2018.

DeVos just threw her support behind legislation to create up to $5 billion in tax-credit scholarships. But could the president pitch a separate choice plan of his own in the fiscal year blueprint? Remember, Trump called on Congress to “pass school choice” in his State of the Union address earlier this year. Will he give them something new to consider or let the proposals already in Congress be the focus?

Click here to see where federal education spending stands now.

2. Congress Might Reject Trump’s Vision ... Again

Trump’s two previous spending plans for the U.S. Department of Education have stalled out like a cheap scooter when they’ve hit Capitol Hill. Lawmakers reacted to the president’s two previous proposals by increasing education spending, albeit by relatively small amounts, for both years.

Not only did lawmakers reject Trump’s overtures to expand school choice—they rejected Trump’s attempts to eliminate more than $2 billion in teacher training aid and $1.1 billion for that ESSA block grant under Title IV we mentioned earlier. In fact, lawmakers boosted money for things Trump wanted to eliminate or shrink, like the Title IV block grant, the office for civil rights, and more.

Even putting the money aside, Republicans haven’t always been fans of how the Trump administration has handled the fiscal process. In 2018, GOP lawmakers who oversee the Education Department budget chided DeVos for reintroducing proposals Congress rejected the previous year, and for failing to communicate with Capitol Hill staff.

3. Safety First?

The Trump administration made waves in 2018 for its consideration of the idea of allowing Title IV money to pay for arming school teachers—made in its report on school safety in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killings—and its decision to revoke Obama administration guidance on school discipline.

Although the last Trump budget would have eliminated Title IV funding, Trump appeared to applaud the move when Congress agreed to increase its funding from $400 million to $1.1 billion last year, in large part as a boost for school safety. (The money can be spent on a variety of programs, not just on those explicitly focused on safety.) It’s possible that the president could make some sort of move to allocate more resources to school safety for the Education Department or elsewhere in the federal budget, whether that be for school resource officers, safety infrastructure, or other strategies.

4. Revival of a Merger

It’s also worth watching whether Trump includes a proposal he introduced last summer to merge the Education and Labor Departments. That idea, part of a broader push to reorganize the federal government, was to better prepare students for the workforce, according to the administration. Many key offices in the current Education Department would have survived the merger, although education advocates as well as many lawmakers were skeptical of the idea.

The proposed merger has disappeared from public discussion. Could Trump try to resuscitate it in some form in his fiscal blueprint?

Photo: President Donald Trump in 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)