Federal

Proposed Budget Targets High-Profile Programs, Favors School Choice

High-profile programs targeted; school choice favored
By Alyson Klein & Andrew Ujifusa — March 21, 2017 6 min read
The Education Department's $68 billion budget would be slashed by $9 billion, or 13 percent in the coming fiscal year under the spending plan proposed by President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump spent more than a year on the campaign trail saying he wanted to take an ax to the U.S. Department of Education and be the country’s biggest champion for school choice. And in his budget proposal last week, he moved to deliver on both promises—to the chagrin of many educators and advocates.

The president’s first budget plan seeks to slash the Education Department’s roughly $68 billion budget by $9 billion, or 13 percent in the coming fiscal year, whacking popular programs that help districts offer after-school programs, and hire and train teachers.

At the same time, it seeks a $1.4 billion increased federal investment in school choice, including new money for private school vouchers and charter schools, and would add $1 billion in new aid for disadvantaged students that could follow them to the public school of their choice.

And while it maintains special education funding under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act at about $13 billion, the proposal aims to scrap more than 20 programs—some of them sizable.

The biggest of those slated for elimination: Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, or Title II, which is currently funded at $2.25 billion and helps states and districts hire and provide professional development for teachers and school leaders. The budget plan also would also get rid of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which is funded at $1.2 billion currently and finances after-school and extended-learning programs. Trump’s budget says both programs are spread too thin to be effective.

A slew of education groups expressed deep concerns about the cuts, including those representing state chiefs, district officials, teachers, and civil rights organizations.

There are “cuts to the meat and muscle of public school,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Politically Tricky

Former Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. was equally alarmed by the cuts.

“If this proposal were enacted, all students, particularly students of color and low-income students, throughout the entire continuum of our education system would suffer,” said King, who is now the president of the Education Trust, an advocacy group for disadvantaged students, in a statement.

Federal Spending Plan: Education

President Donald Trump proposed a budget for fiscal 2018 that would make deep funding cuts to the U.S. Department of Education, as well as eliminate several high-profile programs. The two largest K-12 programs at the department—Title I for disadvantaged students, and funding for special education under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act—would not be reduced. Other budget line items would take a major hit. Among the proposal’s highlights:

Overall Discretionary Spending: Would decline from $68 billion in current funding to $59 billion in fiscal 2018, a 13 percent drop.

Programs

Spending Increases

Title I: A $1 billion increase to roughly $16 billion. However, the increased spending would be designed to follow students to the public schools of their choice
Charter School Grants: A $168 million increase, bringing the program to $500 million

New

Private School Choice: $250 million for a new federal program

Flat Funding

Special Education: Would maintain current funding of nearly $13 billion

Scrapped

Title II Grants for Teacher and Principal Training: Elimination of a program currently funded at $2.3 billion
21st Century Community Learning Centers: Elimination of a program currently receiving $1.2 billion in federal aid
Striving Readers: Elimination of a state literacy program, currently known Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants, and funded at $190 million
Teacher Quality Partnership Grants: Elimination of these grants to states, currently funded at $43 million

Funding Cuts

TRIO: Funding for this program that assists disadvantaged K-12 students and first-generation college students, among others, would fall to $808 million from $900 million GEAR UP: Funding for this program that prepares low-income students for postsecondary opportunities, would fall to $219 million from $323 million

Source: Education Week

The federal spending plan still needs to go through Congress for approval, and cuts of this magnitude will almost certainly be a heavy political lift. The proposal would set spending levels for federal fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, and generally impacts the 2018-19 school year.

Already, some Republicans seem reluctant to embrace the level of cuts Trump is seeking for the budget overall, with some other agencies facing far deeper reductions than the Education Department.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that deals with education spending, indicated he wasn’t totally sold on the overall budget plan, although he didn’t single out education spending.

“The president’s budget is the first step in the appropriations process. There are many concerns with nondefense discretionary cuts,” Blunt said in a statement, referring to the budget category that includes K-12 programs.

And Democrats quickly signaled that they plan to fight the proposal. The “cuts for programs that serve America’s middle and working class are an assault to our values,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House panel that oversees education spending, in a statement.

But Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Trump and his team “went looking for the most wasteful, most indefensible prgrams” and eliminated them to make room for big increases to defense spending, law enforcement, and building a wall along the border with Mexico.

Mulvaney was asked at a White House news briefing the day the budget was unveiled about cuts to an after-school program in Pennsylvania, which got funding from the 21 Century Community Learning Centers Program.

While saying he was not familiar with the particular program, the OMB director said such programs in general are “supposed to be educational programs, right? ... They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence of actually helping results, helping kids do better in school.”

Choice Initiative

Trump is also pitching a $1.4 billion boost for various school choice efforts, which the budget document bills as a down payment on Trump’s campaign promise to pour $20 billion into expanding student options.

The charter school grant program, currently funded at $333 million, would get a sizeable increase of $168 million. The program helps states and charter organizations start up, replicate, and expand schools, with a special focus on helping charter management organizations with a track record of success open new campuses.

Trump is also proposing a new, $250 million private school choice initiative that could provide vouchers for use at private schools, likely including religious schools.

As part of the school choice push, the budget would include a $1 billion increase for Title I grants for disadvantaged students, currently funded at nearly $15 billion. But that money would come with a twist: States and districts would be encouraged to use the funds for a system of “student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables federal, state, and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.”

Lawmakers debated that policy—known as “portability"—in crafting the Every Student Succeeds Act. It was part of a bill passed by the House in the summer of 2015, but didn’t make it into the final legislation.

Lindsey Burke, the director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, which promotes limited government and favors school choice, hailed the budget’s emphasis on shrinking the federal footprint in education. She said the $1 billion in Title I money that would be portable is a step in the right direction for promoting choice. “This is a pretty thoughtful approach,” Burke said.

But she expressed concerns about the $168 million in additional money for charter grants, saying, “Folks need to be careful that we’re not crowding out the private market through federal investments in charters.”

The school choice initiatives could be a tough sell with Senate Republicans from rural states, where districts are often too isolated to offer any high-quality alternative options to their students.

The budget would keep level-funding for Pell Grants, which help low-income students cover the costs of college, at $22 billion. But it would nix nearly $4 billion in surplus funding that both Republicans and Democrats had hoped to use to help students cover the costs of summer courses.

The proposal also takes aim at other college-access programs, including TRIO, which provides services to low-income children and first-generation college students, and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (known as GEAR UP).

The initial budget blueprint did not include details on a host of other programs across the government affecting children and youth, including Head Start, which is housed in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But the budget proposes eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, both of which received about $148 million in fiscal year 2016 and support K-12 education through grants, programs, and research.

Contributing Writer Jaclyn Zubrzycki provided material for this article.
A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2017 edition of Education Week as Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed. Dept.

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