For the third straight year, President Donald Trump has proposed significant cuts to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget. And although his administration’s approach to pushing education choice shifted somewhat in his budget request last week for fiscal 2020, the president’s priorities—which include a $5 billion sweetener for school choice—will likely fall short again on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s proposal for the Education Department for the fiscal year that starts in October is $64 billion, a cut of $7.1 billion from current spending levels of just over $71 billion. The proposed cut of about 10 percent is larger than the 5 percent cut Trump unsuccessfully proposed for fiscal 2019, yet smaller than the 13.5 percent reduction he proposed in his first budget request for fiscal 2018. The president’s federal budget request totals approximately $4.8 trillion, the largest request in history.
As with last year’s budget request, Trump wants to eliminate $2.1 billion in federal funding for teacher training under Title II, $1.2 billion in after-school funding in the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and $1.2 billion in block-grant money for districts to use to enhance academic offerings and improve school climate under Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
“We find those programs to be either ineffective, duplicative of other activities, or better funded by state and local governments,” James Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, said in a conference call with reporters last week. (The Title IV block grants were created when ESSA was signed into law in 2015.)
In total, the president and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also support the elimination of 29 department programs, including those dealing with arts education, gifted and talented programs, and literacy work, for $6.7 billion in budget savings.
President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request seeks to get rid of 29 programs at the U.S. Department of Education. Cutting them would create $6.7 billion in savings, according to the department. Below are the programs the Trump administration wants to eliminate, along with their current funding levels. (Figures have been rounded.)
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers: $1.2 billion
- Alaska Native Education: $36 million
- American History and Civics Education: $4.8 million
- Arts in Education: $29 million
- Comprehensive Centers: $52 million
- Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants: $190 million
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: $840 million
- Full-Service Community Schools: $17.5 million
- Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education: $5 million
- Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs: $360 million
- Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need: $23 million
- Impact Aid Payments for Federal Property: $74.3 million
- Innovative Approaches to Literacy: $27 million
- International Education and Foreign Language Studies Domestic Programs: $65.1 million
- International Education and Foreign Language Studies Overseas Programs: $7.1 million
- Javits Gifted and Talented Education: $12 million
- Native Hawaiian Education: $36.4 million
- Promise Neighborhoods: $78.3 million
- Ready to Learn Programming: $27.7 million
- Regional Educational Laboratories: $55.4 million
- Special Olympics Education Programs: $17.6 million
- Statewide Family Engagement Centers: $10 million
- Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems: $32.3 million
- Strengthening Institutions: $99.9 million
- Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants: $1.2 billion
- Supported Employment State Grants: $22.5 million
- Supporting Effective Educator Development: $75 million
- Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants: $2.1 billion
- Teacher Quality Partnership: $43.1 million
SOURCE: Office of Management and Budget
On the other side of the ledger, the administration is supporting a $5 billion scholarship program, to be administered by the Department of the Treasury, that would provide federal tax credits to individuals and companies that donate to scholarship-granting groups. (Ultimately, the administration envisions a 10-year tax-credit program worth up to $50 billion.) DeVos announced her support for GOP legislation to this effect last month. The Education Department request also seeks $30 million for the District of Columbia voucher program, double its current funding.
And in a twist on the administration’s support for educational choice, the budget request includes a $200 million program to provide vouchers that teachers could use for professional development; the program would be included in the Education Innovation and Research program.
The administration also wants to create a $100 million competitive-grant program to help improve school safety, as part of a $700 million effort focused on school safety that includes the Health and Human Services and Justice departments.
Not in Sync
Blew admitted that the administration has not been “synced up” with Congress about Trump’s previous budget requests for education. Lawmakers have ignored Trump’s proposed cuts and instead increased Education Department spending for both fiscal 2018 and 2019.
Early reactions to the budget from lawmakers gave no indications that the landscape has changed, particularly since Democrats now control the House of Representatives.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the House education committee, said in a statement that Trump’s request “ignores the needs of America’s children” and doesn’t invest in “our future.” And Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, said in a statement about the overall $4.8 trillion federal government request that, “I look forward to reviewing additional details of the president’s budget proposal.”
The administration should get high marks for proposing $500 million for federal charter school grants, a $60 million increase over current levels, and other attempts to increase K-12 choice, said John Schilling, the president of the American Federation for Children, the school choice advocacy group formerly led by DeVos. “These proposals represent the most ambitious agenda yet for expanding educational freedom and opportunity,” Schilling said in a statement.
But other advocates in the education world took a very dim view of the Trump-DeVos budget.
For example, the Afterschool Alliance said that if Congress were to end the 21st Century Community Learning Centers’ funding stream, “programs will close. Young children will be left without supervision. Working families will face untenable choices about how to ensure the safety of their children in the afternoon hours and over the summer.”
And the National Coalition for Public Education, which opposes vouchers, slammed the $30 million request for District of Columbia vouchers and the tax-credit scholarship proposal. The latter, the group said, amounted to “nothing more than the government cherry-picking the charity of its choice—in this case funneling money away from public schools to private, often religious schools.”
Given the president’s past budget requests, the fiscal 2020 proposal largely meets expectations, said Sarah Abernathy, the deputy executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, which advocates for increased federal K-12 aid. One surprise for Abernathy? Trump’s proposed elimination of Title IV, she noted, flies in the face of the significant increases Congress has given the program over the past two years.
“Also, it’s a flexible block grant, and that’s what I thought Republicans favored,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 20, 2019 edition of Education Week as Trump K-12 Priorities Outlined in Budget