We found out the basic outlines of President Donald Trump’s blueprint for federal spending on schools last week. The administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018, slated to be officially released Tuesday, would make significant changes to the U.S. Department of Education’s priorities by prioritizing school choice and paring back Washington’s aid for teacher development and after-school programs.
But there are several key questions you should have in mind when the budget rolls out. Here are a few of them:
1) How will his school choice proposals work?
We know Trump wants to create a new $1 billion grant program under Title I spending for disadvantaged students to allow them to choose the public schools of their choice. But how would that funding work if it is outside the traditional Title I spending structure (which relies on formulas to get money to districts)? If it is optional, what will be the terms under which states would apply for the money? And would there be limits on which public schools they could use the money for?
And it’s not clear how, exactly, the Education Department would use the Education Innovation and Research fund to promote vouchers. Would most of the cash go for actually dispensing vouchers to students, or for research into vouchers? What would be the research standards the department would apply to voucher studies? And which students would be eligible for any voucher funds?
2) What share of the cuts will come from K-12 versus higher education?
We’re focusing mostly on how the budget directly impacts public schools, but several of the biggest cuts in the budget could impact student loans and access to higher education. Trump’s spending plan eliminates loan forgiveness for those in public service under certain conditions. It’s unclear exactly under what terms the department would wind the program down, but any move along those lines could have a huge impact on many teachers with outstanding student loans.
It’s also worth noting that Trump’s budget would make cuts to two programs, GEAR UP and TRIO, that are designed to improve access to higher education for disadvantaged students in K-12, some as young as those in middle schools.
3) What will be the impact of budget plans for other agencies?
Not every program that affects education is actually in the Education Department’s budget.
Just to highlight one example: Head Start is housed at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Trump administration so far hasn’t shown a great deal of interest in early education. Lawmakers actuallly approved a small spending increase for Head Start for this spending year—will the president give it more money, keep it flat like he proposes to do for special education grants at the Education Department, or cut it way down? (More on that general issue below.)
It’s also worth watching school lunch programs at the Department of Agriculture and the civil rights division at the Department of Justice.
4) How will members of Congress react to the budget?
This is one of the most important questions in this situation, if not the most important one. Congress, including GOP lawmakers, already gave not-so-hot reactions to Trump’s preliminary budget plan that came out in mid-March. And members of both parties will closely scrutinize the terms of any proposed school choice expansion. The education budget isn’t likely to be at the center of any government shutdown fight, but could we see a squabble between Trump and Congress as this fiscal year approaches its final day of Sept. 30?
And it’s worth remembering that in the spending deal Congress agreed to for fiscal 2017, the one that runs out at the end of September, Congress actually provided increases to several programs Trump wants to cut or eliminate entirely for fiscal 2018.
In any event, we’ll get a sense of lawmakers’ views when the House appropriations committee holds a hearing on the education budget proposal on Wednesday. The special guest? Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
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