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Trump Budget Would Slash Education Dept. Spending, Boost School Choice

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 23, 2017 9 min read
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President Donald Trump’s full budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Education, released on Tuesday, includes big shifts in funding priorities and makes cuts to spending for teacher development, after-school enrichment, and career and technical education, while ramping up investments in school choice.

A $1 billion cash infusion for Title I’s services for needy children would be earmarked as grants designed to promote public school choice, instead of going out by traditional formulas to school districts. These would be called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grants, according to a summary of the department’s budget, that would provide money to school districts using weighted student funding formulas and open enrollment policies.

That would bring Title I grants up to $15.9 billion in all. However, in Trump’s budget, states would lose out on the $550 million increase in formula-based funding that Congress approved in a budget deal earlier this year. Total Title I grants to districts through those formulas would be funded at $14.9 billion in Trump’s proposed budget.

And charter school grants, which currently get $342 million in federal aid, would get nearly a 50 percent increase and get $500 million. Finally, a program originally tailored to research innovative school practices would be retooled to research and promote vouchers, and get a funding boost of $270 million, bringing it up to $370 million.

Grants for special education, which also go out by formula, get $12.7 billion in Trump’s budget, a decline of about $112 million from the amount in the fiscal 2017 budget deal. The biggest single line-item to be eliminated is $2.1 billion for supporting teacher development and reducing class size under Title II.

Overall, Trump’s detailed spending plan for K-12 mostly sticks to the preliminary budget his administration released in mid-March by cutting $9.2 billion, or 13.5 percent, from the Education Department’s current $68.2 billion budget for fiscal 2017. It is the largest single-year cut that a president has looked to make to the Education Department’s discretionary budget (by percentage) since President Ronald Reagan sought a 35.7 percent cut to the department in his proposed fiscal 1983 budget. Congress ultimately increased the department’s budget for fiscal 1983. And this time around, Congress might very well might end up disregarding many of Trump’s budget proposals. Over 30 programs would be eliminated or reduced.

The budget would primarily impact the 2018-19 school year. Cuts would occur to higher education as well as K-12 programs.

Need an easy visual way to keep track of what happens to various programs in Trump’s programs? Check out the chart below:

“This budget allows the department to focus our efforts on serving students” while being a good steward of taxpayer dollars, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Tuesday during a department presentation of the budget.

Discussing the new $1 billion public school choice grant fund, Jason Botel, a deputy assistant secretary at the department, said the proposal is intended to prompt school officials to rethink current school funding systems and make them more equitable. And he said the department is seeking new statutory language to allow for the FOCUS grants under Title I.

“I think there’s an appetite in the field for more schools, more districts, more states, to build financial management systems to do those kinds of things,” Botel said.

More and Less Money

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Tuesday the budget would provide “more money for school choice” and therefore deliver on one of Trump’s campaign promises. (Last September, Trump pitched a $20 billion plan to expand choice, but that’s much bigger than what the budget proposes.)

The Education Innovation and Research Fund would get a budget boost from $100 million to $370 million, but a portion of this money would be repurposed to “support efforts to test and build evidence for the effectiveness of private school choice” as a strategy for helping parents who want to send their children to private schools, improving outcomes for students from low-income backgrounds, and increasing competition to improve all schools.

As he did in mid-March, Mulvaney on Tuesday specifically criticized the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which provide after-school programs for needy students, for not being effective enough to justify its funding. A Brookings Institution report from 2015 took a broadly negative view of the program, but the Afterschool Alliance, an advocacy organization, has defended the centers.

A new block grant under Title IV, which got $400 million in the fiscal 2017 budget deal that lasts through Sept. 30, is also eliminated under Trump’s budget

DeVos is slated to discuss the budget proposal at a House appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday. It would be the first time she has met publicly with lawmakers since she was confirmed in February.

On Monday evening, in a speech at the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, DeVos said it would be a “terrible mistake” for states not to participate in Trump’s proposed school choice initiative: “They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids.”

Trump’s budget would also make changes to student loan repayments for higher education, and eliminate public service loan forgiveness and subsidized student loans for low-income students. The spending plan would institute year-round Pell Grants. There would also be a $3.9 billion draw-down from the Pell program’s surplus, although the total maximum individual Pell award is slated to remain level.

It’s worth noting that in the fiscal 2017 spending agreement Congress reached earlier this year, lawmakers cut Title II teacher development grants by about $200 million, but actually provided increases to a few programs Trump wants cut for fiscal 2018.

For example, Congress increased funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers by $25 million for this budget year. Impact Aid, GEAR UP, and TRIO programs also got small increases.

Other Agencies

Head Start, which is run by the Department of Health and Human Services, would get an $85 million cut in Trump’s budget plan. Elsewhere at HHS, the budget proposes just over $1 billion for the National Center for Child Health and Human Development, a 23 percent cut from fiscal 2017. That’s in keeping with the overall HHS budget proposal, which would reduce research grants in general by more than $3.7 billion, or abut 21 percent.

In addition to Medicaid cuts, Trump’s budget proposal would affect the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provides matching funds to help states provide health insurance for children in low-income families that do not qualify for Medicaid.

The rate of uninsured children birth to 17 reached an all-time low of 5 percent in 2016, thanks in large part to CHIP and Medicaid, which cover about 39 percent of those children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. By comparison, the uninsured rate for adults 18-64 is 12 percent.

The budget would extend CHIP through fiscal 2019, but it proposes changes that would cut the program’s costs by a total of $5.8 billion over 10 years. Among the changes proposed in Trump’s budget is the end of a provision created under the Affordable Care Act that increases federal matches for states’ CHIP programs by 23 percent.

For the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the budget proposal would provide no money for school kitchen equipment grants, a relatively small program that was praised by school food directors for helping meet the need for updated equipment to prepare school lunches and breakfasts. The grant program is scheduled to receive $25 million this fiscal year.

Federal school meal program funding would remain about the same. The budget calls for about $13 billion for school lunches, compared to the $12.3 billion it is set to receive this year, and about $4.8 billion for school breakfasts, compared to $4.5 billion in this fiscal year.

The budget also dramatically cuts funding for the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, a Justice Department program created after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The initiative provides grants that help university researchers study the root causes of issues like school violence and bullying and to test the effectiveness of various interventions. Trump’s budget plan would provide $18 million for the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, compared to $50 million it is set to receive this fiscal year.

Early Reaction

Some conservative analysts are skeptical about the budget’s emphasis on choice, even when the cuts to many programs are included.

Meanwhile, several education groups had already decried the impact of Trump’s budget when key details emerged last week, and Democratic lawmakers joined in.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a harsh critic of DeVos during the secretary’s confirmation hearing and a member of the Senate education committee, blasted away at the budget Tuesday night on Twitter, saying, “The Trump-DeVos budget would push opportunities out of the reach of millions of students across the country.”

And Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., told us in response to early reports about the budget last week that the budget undermines the congressional intent behind the Education Innovation and Research fund by turning it into a vehicle for private school choice.

The reaction wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. Last week, the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke, for example, said she liked the overall cut to the Education Department’s budget and says if that were to mean more control for states and school districts, so much the better (Heritage favors limited federal government.)

However, both she and Neal McCluskey of the libertarian Cato Institute expressed concern about the general thrust of the choice-friendly initiatives in the budget. They said in general choice fans should be wary of having the federal government dictate too much of what’s going on in states and schools.

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which favors school choice and a limited federal role in education, said the Trump budget might have a positive impact in some areas. For example, he said the proposed elimination of Title II might trigger states to rethink how they often spend that money on ineffective teacher development programs: “If you’re going to pick on something, that’s a pretty good place to pick on.”

But in general, he said he expected the budget to be “completely ignored” in Congress. And he said conservatives should resist the school choice carrot being dangled by the Trump administration in the budget, since it would increase Washington’s intrusion into K-12 and could be misused by a subsequent Democratic presidential administration.

Photo: Eric Ueland, the Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, distributes President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 federal budget to congressional staffers on Capitol Hill on May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/ Pablo Martinez Monsivais.)

Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor and Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer contributed to this article.