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Budget & Finance

Trump Seeks 10 Percent Cut to Education Department Aid, $5 Billion for Tax-Credit Scholarships

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 11, 2019 6 min read
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President Donald Trump is seeking a 10 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget in his fiscal 2020 budget proposal, which would cut the department’s spending by $7.1 billion down to $64 billion starting in October.

Funding for teacher development under Title II, totaling $2.1 billion, would be eliminated, as would $1.2 billion in Title IV funding for academic supports and enrichment and $1.1 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers that support after-school programs. In total, funding for 29 programs would be eliminated in the federal budget.

On the other side of the ledger, Trump’s budget blueprint calls for $500 million for federal charter school grants, a $60 million increase from current funding levels. The president also wants $200 million for the School Safety National Activities program, which would more than double the program’s $95 million in current funding—of that amount, $100 million would be used to fund a new School Safety State Formula Grant program. There are no requirements for the grant program related to firearms, according to the Education Department. And the office for civil rights would get $125 million, the same as current funding.

On the school choice front, the department says its main proposal has already been introduced: a federal tax-credit scholarship program from Republicans. The Treasury Department’s budget proposal includes $5 billion for the cost of such a program.

Meanwhile, the Education Innovation and Research fund would be funded at $300 million, a $170 million increase from fiscal 2019. Of that amount, $200 million would “test the impact of teacher professional development vouchers,” according to a presentation from the Education Department, while $100 million would go toward innovative STEM grants. In addition, the Trump budget would provide $50 million for a pilot program under Title I to help districts create and use weighted student-funding formulas—this pilot program was created under the Every Student Succeeds Act in order to help schools focus money directly on disadvantaged students and those with special needs. Funding for the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarships Program, which provides vouchers to students in the nation’s capital, would increase to $30 million.

Title I funding for disadvantaged students, the single-largest federal funding program for public schools, remains flat at $15.9 billion in Trump’s budget pitch. Special education grants to states would also be level-funded at $13.2 billion. Also flat-funded are the English Language Acquisition formula grants at $737.4 million.

“This budget at its core is about education freedom—freedom for America’s students to pursue their life-long learning journeys in the ways and places that work best for them, freedom for teachers to develop their talents and pursue their passions, and freedom from the top-down ‘Washington knows best’ approach that has proven ineffective and even harmful to students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a statement about the budget proposal.

On a Monday conference call with reporters, Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, acknowledged that Congress and the Trump administration have not been synced up in terms of education spending priorities.

“The administration believes that we need to reduce the amount of discretionary funding for the education,” Blew said. “That is based on the desire to have some fiscal discipline and address some higher-priority needs.”

Blew indicated that the priorities should be the disadvantaged children and students with disabilities.

For more details on Trump’s fiscal 2020 proposal for the Education Department, click here. And check out our chart below to see the effects Trump’s budget request would have on different programs.


Past Failures to Shrink the Department

Trump’s total federal budget request is about $4.8 trillion.

The U.S. Department of Education’s current budget is about $71.5 billion. That’s the largest nominal spending figure (not adjusted for inflation) in the department’s history.

The basic outlines of the 2020 budget proposal mark the third fiscal cycle in which Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have sought to cut the Education Department’s budget. In many key respects, as we wrote Sunday. Trump’s first two education spending plans fell flat in Congress. In fact, Congress increased education spending for both fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 by small amounts. And Congress has also criticized the budgetary process at the department under DeVos.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, issued a brief response to the request, saying only that, “I look forward to reviewing additional details of the President’s budget proposal in the coming week.”

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, blasted the proposal, saying that the budget request “proposes that middle class families pay the price with massive cuts to education” as well as health care and other programs. Murray later added that, “Secretary DeVos is proposing gutting investments in students, teachers, public schools, and even school safety--all to make room for her extreme privatization proposal that no one asked for. This is not a serious budget proposal, and I am going to once again work with Republicans in Congress to ensure every student has access to a quality public education in their neighborhood.”

Advocates for after-school programs were quick to rebuke Trump’s proposal to eliminate 21st Century Community Learning Centers. If Congress goes along with it, “Young children will be left without supervision. Working families will face untenable choices about how to ensure the safety of their children in the afternoon hours and over the summer. Learning opportunities will be squandered. Children, families and our economy will lose out,” said Jodi Grant, the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, in a statement.

The most dramatic changes Trump has sought for the department’s budget probably came in his first year, when he proposed a cut of more than 13 percent for fiscal 2018, the end of long-standing federal programs dealing with teachers’ professional development and after-school activities, and a big shot in the arm for school choice.

He followed up for fiscal 2019 with a smaller proposed cut to the Education Department of 5 percent. However, he once again sought to eliminate teacher training money under Title II and after-school spending, as well as the Title IV grant program designed to create safer schools and academic enrichment for students. In a particularly robust sign of its disdain for this plan—and in response to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February 2018—Congress boosted Title IV spending from $400 million to $1.1 billion.

The Trump administration later praised this spending increase as a boon for school safety, despite its previous attempts to eliminate Title IV as redundant—the block grant program is designed to cover a variety of programs, not just school safety. So it’s notable that the administration is seeking to eliminate it once again.

The one school choice victory for Trump on this front so far is a growing federal investment in charter schools. Spending on federal charter grants has grown from $333 million to $440 million during Trump’s presidency.

DeVos has already thrown her support behind a federal tax-credit scholarship proposal in Congress released at the end of last month. She’s backing a $5 billion bill from Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has a similar proposal that seeks $10 billion in appropriations for the scholarships.

Photo: President Donald Trump speaks to business leaders in 2017. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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