Law & Courts

Ed. Dept. Budget Plan Hammered by Both Sides in Congress

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 20, 2017 4 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that handles education issues. She defended the Trump administration’s plan to slash the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by 9.2 percent.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The political prospects appear dreary for President Donald Trump’s proposed $59 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Education—but that hasn’t stopped it from riling people up.

In two budget hearings before the House and Senate during the past three weeks, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has defended the Trump administration’s proposal to cut roughly 9.2 percent, or $13.5 billion, from the department’s budget and dramatically expand school choice. She’s gotten a chilly reception from Democrats, as well as some Republicans, who appear hostile to many of the large cuts, among other things, in the proposed fiscal 2018 spending plan.

“This is a difficult budget request to defend,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee that funds the Education Department, told DeVos earlier this month in a hearing.

Fending Off Lawmakers

DeVos also tried to fend off questions from lawmakers about how the proposed choice plans will work, including their handling of thorny civil rights issues.

The budget blueprint includes a $250 million research program that would fund private school choice, $1 billion in new federal Title I money to follow disadvantaged students to the public schools of their choice, and a 50 percent bump to federal charter school grants, up to $500 million.

On the other side of the ledger, the proposal would eliminate $2 billion for teacher training and class-size reductions under Title II, as well as $1.1 billion in spending on after-school and other enrichment programs. Traditional Title I aid to districts, career and technical education funding, and special education money would also receive relatively small cuts. In all, more than 20 programs would be eliminated or phased out.

Blunt said the major cuts to formula-funded programs would be all but impossible to pass.

DeVos defended the budget’s approach, telling senators in the appropriations hearing that while choice was crucial for expanding education opportunities, other recent big-spending approaches in Washington had failed. “The notion that spending more money is going to bring about better results is, I think, ill-advised,” DeVos said.

Even though presidents’ budget requests are often greeted with skepticism on Capitol Hill, the negative reaction to this proposal is unusually pronounced, said Vic Klatt, a former GOP congressional staffer who is now a principal at the Penn Hill lobbying firm in Washington.

“It made a lot of people uncomfortable, and sometimes with no good reason. And I think part of the reason is that they did less consulting on some of the specifics,” Klatt said. “It probably would have helped if they had talked to the Hill a little bit more.”

Some of the most pointed exchanges between Democrats and DeVos came over the budget’s push to expand school choice.

In a House subcommittee budget hearing last month, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., repeatedly asked whether the $250 million would allow schools that might wish to discriminate against LGBT or black students to participate. (Federal law contains protections against racial discrimination, but is less clear on issues of sexual orientation.) DeVos didnot directly answer the question.

“The bottom line is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their students’ schooling and education,” DeVos told Clark. “States and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions and frameworks on behalf of their students.”

While DeVos also said her department would investigate alleged civil rights violations, Clark said she was “shocked” by the response.

‘Follow Federal Law’

Under similar questioning in the Senate subcommittee, DeVos repeatedly said that, “Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law, period.” But Democrats argued that this stance leaves the door open for schools participating in the proposed program to discriminate, including on religious grounds.

Under questioning from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., DeVos also said that any schools taking part in the $250 million proposal would “absolutely” have to abide by federal special education law. However, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act currently does not apply to private schools. Congress would either have to reauthorize the IDEA or amend it through the budgeting process in order to change that. Both propositions could face very long odds.

Republicans also had their issues with the various budget proposals.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., raised concerns about the proposed school choice expansion by asking how the programs would serve students in rural areas. DeVos responded that online education options could be helpful in those instances. DeVos also defended a proposed $168 million cut, or 15 percent, for career and technical education grants, arguing that there are overlapping efforts for CTE elsewhere in the federal budget.

And Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., asked DeVos whether the $1 billion program under the Title I umbrella would be similar to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which offered grants to states to take certain policy approaches, which many Republicans came to view as inappropriately coercive. DeVos assured Lankford that the Title I choice proposal wouldn’t be mandatory. The same was true of Race to the Top.

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2017 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Budget Proposal Hammered by Both Sides in Congress

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment: Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Supreme Court Says High School Coach's Post-Game Prayers Protected by the First Amendment
The decision could have enormous practical consequences for school districts and their supervision of teachers and other employees.
9 min read
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school's football field. After losing his coaching job for refusing to stop kneeling in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy will take his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 25, 2022, saying the Bremerton School District violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to let him continue praying at midfield after games.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of former Bremerton (Wash.) High School assistant football coach Joseph A. Kennedy that his post-game prayers were protected by the First Amendment.
Ted S. Warren/AP
Law & Courts At the Supreme Court, High School Students Express Disappointment Over Abortion Decision
Students showed up to flex their civic muscles in the wake of the court ruling.
4 min read
From left, teenagers Sonia and Lilia Oulamine march outside the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022.
From left, Sonia and Lilia Oulamine march outside the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022.
Eesha Pendharkar/Education Week
Law & Courts Supreme Court Overturns 'Roe v. Wade’; States Can Ban Abortion
The decision, unthinkable just a few years ago, was the culmination of decades of efforts by abortion opponents.
7 min read
A celebration outside the Supreme Court, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Washington. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years — a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Law & Courts School Groups Worry as Supreme Court Recognizes Right to Carry Handguns in Public
In a 6-3 decision over a New York state law, the court says little about schools as 'sensitive places' where guns can be prohibited.
6 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court in 2021.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court in 2021.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP