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President Trump Signs Spending Bill That Includes Billions More for Education

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 23, 2018 7 min read
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President Donald Trump signed into law spending legislation that provides a significant funding increase for the U.S. Department of Education, including more money for educator development, after-school programs, and special education, among other programs.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump said he was interested in either eliminating or dramatically shrinking the Education Department. But after months of failing to agree on fiscal 2018 spending levels, lawmakers finally passed a spending package that rebuffed Trump’s attempt to cut the department’s budget by the largest percentage in its history. And Capitol Hill also left out two major school choice initiatives put forward by Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. (Trump said Friday morning that he was considering vetoing the bill over its lack of protections for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and the lack of “full funding” for a wall on the border with Mexico.)

“We wanted to include DACA in this bill. The Democrats would not do it,” Trump said after announcing he had signed the bill.

Lawmakers boosted overall spending at the Education Department by $2.6 billion over previously enacted levels in fiscal 2018, up to $70.9 billion. It’s the highest-ever appropriation for discretionary spending at the Education Department on paper, although not when you adjust for inflation.

In addition, funding for Title I, the biggest pot of federal money for public schools, which is earmarked for disadvantaged students, is rising by $300 million from fiscal 2017 enacted spending, up to $15.8 billion.

Trump’s budget plan for fiscal 2018 would have cut discretionary education spending by $9.2 billion. So the final appropriations for fiscal 2018 are a significant rebuke of sorts to the president’s education vision.

In fact, the bill Trump signed into law omitted the $250 million private school choice initiative the president and DeVos sought, as well as a $1 billion program designed to encourage open enrollment in districts.

Title II, which provides professional development to educators, is flat-funded at roughly $2.1 billion. The Trump budget pitch for fiscal 2018 eliminated Title II entirely—it was the single biggest cut to K-12 Trump sought for fiscal 2018. And Title IV, a block grant for districts that can fund a diverse set of needs from school safety to ed-tech, is receiving $1.1 billion, a big increase from its current funding level of $400 million. Trump also sought to eliminate Title IV.

Funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers increases by $20 million up to $1.2 billion; that’s another program the Trump budget proposal axed. In addition, special education grants go up by $299 million to $13.1 billion. And federal aid to charter schools rise to $400 million, a $58 million boost.

The fiscal 2018 appropriations measure also bans funds from the bill being used for “a reorganization that decentralizes, reduces the staffing level, or alters the responsibilities, structure, authority, or functionality of the Budget Service of the Department of Education.” DeVos had been seeking such a change as part of her effort to restructure and streamline the department.

Lawmakers also rebuffed a move by DeVos to reduce the office for civil rights’ budget by $1 million—the bill increases funding from $109 million to $117 million.

The spending agreement includes a $2.37 billion increase to the Child Care Development Block Grant, totaling $5.226 billion. And it hikes up Head Start funding by $610 million, bringing it to $9.863 billion. Meanwhile, the Preschool Development Grants, which the Trump administration sought to eliminate, were level-funded at $250 million. The program, which was created through ESSA, is a big priority for Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee.

There’s also $120 million for the Education Innovation and Research program or EIR, which helps test out promising practices at the district level. In its most recent budget request, the Trump administration sought to boost that program to $200 million, and fund only projects that would help bolster science, technology, engineering, and math education. Instead, there’s now a chunk of EIR funding for STEM, $50 million. The rest can go to other kinds of projects.

Congress must first pass the bill and send it to Trump for his signature before these spending levels are set. The government will shut down when Friday turns to Saturday if new spending levels for fiscal 2018 aren’t finalized by then.

Technically, the deadline for lawmakers approving appropriations legislation for this fiscal year was the start of last October. But as you’ve probably heard, Capitol Hill’s dealmaking ability on spending has been weak recently. So federal spending has limped along through a series of resolutions that have largely carried over fiscal 2017 spending.

A sign of how far behind Congress is: House lawmakers just heard from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about the president’s fiscal 2019 budget blueprint on Tuesday.

Changes to School Safety

While the new spending accord raises overall federal school safety funding, it also shifts funds from an existing, wide-ranging school safety grant program that focuses on school environments toward the new STOP School Violence Act, which allows that funding to be used for physical security measures, like metal detectors. (The STOP Act, introduced previously in the House and Senate, is included in the omnibus bill.)

The final budget takes $75 million appropriated for the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative—an existing program in the Department of Justice that funds research and implementation of a wide range of evidence-based safety programs that range from bullying prevention to innovative approaches to school policing—and redirects that funding toward programs authorized under the STOP School Violence Act.

The Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, which was developed after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., emphasized evaluation to determine best practices and build an evidence base for school safety programs. The STOP School Violence Act does not include a focus on research and evaluation of the program it funds.

The budget says funding provided through the STOP School Violence Act can be used to support evidence-based programs, violence prevention efforts, and anonymous reporting systems. But it can also be used to support physical security upgrades for schools, like “metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures.”

Some school safety researchers have largely favored efforts to build safe and supportive schools over physical security measures, which they’ve said can make some students feel less safe.

Lawmakers’ Reaction

Earlier this week, the top Senate Democrat for education, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, praised the bipartisan agreement to dismiss the “extreme ideas to privatize our nation’s public schools and dismantle the Department of Education” from DeVos.

“I’m proud to have worked with Republicans in Congress to flatly reject these ideas, and increase funding for programs Secretary DeVos tried to cut, including K-12 education, civil rights protections, college affordability, and more,” Murray said in a statement.

And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., praised the measure for including the STOP School Violence Act, as well as funding for other programs that can be use to help with school safety, such as Title IV:

Meanwhile, the Title IV-A Coalition, which backs more funding for the program, also celebrated the new money for Title IV.

“This level of funding will allow school districts to have true flexibility in determining how to meaningfully invest in and support programs that support safe and healthy students, a well-rounded academic curriculum, and an effective educational technology program,” the group said in a statement.

Need some key spending information in chart form? We’ve got you covered. Check it out below:

Fiscal 2019 is due to start Oct. 1.

Photo: President Donald Trump answers questions as he leaves the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington on March 23, after signing the $1.3 trillion spending bill. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Here are highlights of President Donald Trump’s administration on education:

Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer and Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.