The Institute of Education Sciences escaped mostly unscathed in President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, which otherwise called for cuts to some of the nation’s largest education research programs.
For fiscal 2018, Trump proposed $617 million for the Institute of Education Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education’s research arm. That’s up slightly from Congress’ current spending levels based on the April budget agreement for fiscal 2017, but still down from the agency’s fiscal 2016 spending level.
The agency’s main programs on research and development, statistics, special education studies, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and state data systems all would receive about the same funding as they do now.
“We have to constantly remind people that flat is the new up, and that if you don’t have a target on you, you are doing OK,” said Wendy Naus, executive director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations.
By contrast, at the National Science Foundation, the education directorate would be cut nearly 14 percent from current spending levels, to $760.5 million. Social, behavioral, and economic research across the agency would be cut by $28 million, to $244 million.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House proposed $1.032 billion for the National Center for Child Health and Human Development, a 23 percent cut from fiscal 2017. The overall HHS budget proposal would reduce research grants in general by more than $3.7 billion, or about 21 percent.
The budget blueprint highlights the importance of the Centers for Disease Control’s research into birth defects and geographic tracking of the more than 120,000 children born with birth defects every year, but it cuts the program to $100 million, $35 million below the fiscal 2017 level.
“The overall zeitgeist is not so sweet even though we may look at IES as kind of steady-state,” said Felice Levine, the president of the American Educational Research Association. “This is not a time to reduce investment in science. I think there are many persons on the Hill who see that very clearly. I think we need to take this budget [proposal]now and have some very serious conversations.”
Research advocates are also concerned about the proposed $1.52 billion funding for the Census Bureau. That’s up from current spending, but experts warn it’s far from enough. The decennial budget is cyclical and usually spikes at this point, as the bureau enters the final phase of preparations for the 2020 Census. “If the Trump budget is enacted, we face the possibility of an historic Census disaster,” said Phil Sparks, co-director of the Census Project, an advocate for the surveys.
Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said the proposals more generally suggest that “education policy is being viewed too narrowly” by the administration.
“The research [approach] is particularly problematic, because that’s really the seed of the future,” Hanushek said. “On a number of these issues that involve data collection or long-term research projects, actions today can have huge ramifications for the policies and programs we use in the future.”
Maria Ferguson, the executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, agreed. “For me the larger issue around the research budget cuts is the lack of understanding regarding why education research matters,” Ferguson said. “If the federal government is going to invest billions of dollars in education programs, a healthy portion of that money should go to support a wide range of research to help policymakers and local educators/leaders make informed strategic decisions about those programs.”
For example, Michele McLaughlin, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, which advocates for public and private research groups, noted IES’ comprehensive centers, also level-funded at $51 million, will be needed to support state and district implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
School Voucher Research
One research program at the Education Department seemingly would get a big boost. The $100 million Education Innovation and Research grant program would get more than triple the funding under President Trump’s proposed budget, to $370 million, but the increase would go almost entirely to study private school voucher programs.
But the grants—which evolved from the Obama-era Investing in Innovation grants to help promising education programs build the organization and evidence of effectiveness they needed to scale up—may prove an awkward fit for the Trump administration’s plans to expand private school vouchers nationwide.
About $250 million of that $370 million in proposed spending would go to a separate round of up to 10 grants on private school voucher projects. All together, the grant recipients would be able to provide 17,500 to 26,000 vouchers to private secular or religious schools, in the range of $8,000 to $12,000 per student.
Separately, the program would continue a $100 million “open EIR competition” for any other education interventions that want to build up their research base.
“There seems this terrible irony of this innovation program that was a real baby of the Obama administration to be made into a voucher program,” Ferguson said.
The budget proposal got a mixed first reception in Congress, and Trump was overseas for the first several days of reaction.
“I have a really hard time believing Donald Trump will waste a lot of political capital on education; it just doesn’t seem like something he’s really interested in,” Ferguson said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2017 edition of Education Week as Budget Plan Spares Some Ed. Research Efforts, Cuts Others