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Education Funding

Trump Seeks to Cut Education Budget by 5 Percent, Expand School Choice Push

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 12, 2018 8 min read
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President Donald Trump is seeking a roughly 5 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget for fiscal 2019 in a proposal that also mirrors his spending plan from last year by seeking to eliminate a major teacher-focused grant and to expand school choice.

Trump’s proposed budget, released Monday, would provide the Education Department with $63.2 billion in discretionary aid, a $3.6 billion cut—or 5.3 percent— from current spending levels, for the budget year starting Oct. 1. That’s actually less of a cut than what the president sought for fiscal 2018, when he proposed slashing $9.2 billion—or 13.5 percent—from the department.

In order to achieve those proposed spending cuts, the president copied two major education cuts he proposed last year: the elimination of Title II teacher grants and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Those two cuts combined would come to about $3.1 billion from current levels. Overall, 39 discretionary programs would be cut, eliminated, or “streamlined.”

“Decades of investments and billions of dollars in spending have shown that an increase in funding does not guarantee high-quality education,” the Office of Management and Budget states in the budget document. “While the budget reduces the overall federal role in education, the budget makes strategic investments to support and empower families and improve access to postsecondary education, ensuring a future of prosperity for all Americans.”

On the other side of the ledger, Trump is seeking $1 billion in grants for states for private and public school choice programs called Opportunity Grants. This new funding could also help districts that elect to participate in the Every Student Succeeds Act’s weighted-funding pilot, which would allow federal, state, and local funding to follow students to the public school of their choice. Trump also wants $500 million in federal charter school funding, an increase of roughly 50 percent from current spending levels, which is also the same as his first budget blueprint.

Meanwhile, funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act state formula grants would remain the same ($12.8 billion), as would funding for Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education programs ($1.1 billion). And Title I funding for disadvantaged students, the biggest single K-12 program at the department, is pretty much flat-funded at about $15.4 billion.

“Too many of our children are still unprepared, despite billions of dollars injected into the system with the goal of improving the outcomes,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in remarks Monday at the department to representatives from education groups.

STEM also gets some love: The budget provides “a path forward” to spend $200 million on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education. This includes $180 million in funding for the Education Innovation and Research program, as well as $20 million in new STEM grants. The president announced this issue as a priority last September.

And the Title I set-aside states could use for Direct Student Services—think things like course choice and accelerated courses—would increase from 3 to 5 percent. However, only Louisana and New Mexico have shown an interest in using this set-aside under ESSA.

The budget proposes using the existing school climate transformation grant program to address the effects of opioids on students and schools. It would provide $43 million from a new cohort of grantees. The program’s cost this fiscal year is $68 million.

The budget proposes giving priority to “applicants that describe how they would use funds to address the opioid epidemic, which would include at a minimum activities to prevent opioid abuse by students, and could also address the mental health needs of students who are negatively impacted by family or community members who are (or have been) opioid abusers.” Similar to current recipients, grantees would use the funds evidence-based strategies to improve school climate and student behavior.

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has recommended school-based strategies for addressing the epidemic, including an interview-based student drug screening model known as SBIRT.

Other programs to be scrapped: The proposal seeks to eliminate a slew of other programs, many of which are popular in Congress. That includes the $400 million Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, or Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which districts can use for health, arts, school climate, technology, and other purposes. It would also ax the $73 million Promise Neighborhoods program, which helps districts pair academics with other services, such as health, and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a nearly $340 million program that helps get low-income and first generation students ready for college.

And it would zero out a trio of research programs totaling $140 million, including State Longitudinal Data Systems, Comprehensive Centers, and Regional Educational Laboratories. Also on the chopping block: the $190 million Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants, which help support reading programs; the $12 million Javits Gifted Education Program; and two programs geared towards Alaskan and Native Hawaiian Education, totaling more than $60 million.

And on the early childhood education front: The proposed budget would scrap the $250 million Preschool Development Grant program, which helps states develop or expand pre-school programs for four-year olds from low and moderate income families. The program is a huge priority for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

It would also include a modest boost for the Head Start program of $85 million over the fiscal year 2018 ask, and $22 million over fiscal year 2017 levels. That brings the funding for Head Start to $9.275 billion. The Office of Head Start said earlier this month that it was delaying a plan to lengthen the Head Start day and year because the program doesn’t have enough funding to do so without making major cuts to slots.

Keep this in mind about the 2019 budget: Things are even more muddled than usual, because Congress hasn’t yet finalized appropriations for fiscal 2018. To stave off yet another government shutdown, lawmakers recently extended fiscal 2017 spending levels, and they’ve also agreed to raise spending caps on domestic discretionary programs that include education. Fiscal 2019 is due to start on Oct. 1.

But how seriously should you take this budget blueprint any way? If history’s any guide, it won’t go anywhere in Congress, where lawmakers are not in the habit of just rubber-stamping presidents’ spending plans. The top Republican on the Senate subcommittee overseeing the Education Department’s appropriations, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, wasn’t shy about sharply criticizing Trump’s 2018 spending plan for the department when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified in its defense last year. And the last plan’s signature initiatives—three different school choice expansions—have been all but ignored.

Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget plan for education would have cut the biggest percentage of Education Department funding since President Ronald Reagan’s proposed reduction of 35.7 percent in his fiscal 1983 blueprint.

However, as we noted last week, the budget does signal the president’s priorities when it comes to education. The Trump administration could act on its top issues outside the budget process.

Reactions Mixed

The American Federation for Children, a prominent school choice advocacy group, praised the budget blueprint for “putting more decision-making power into the hands of families.”

“We support a competitive grant program to complement what states are currently doing to create more and better educational options for families and children, and we support the increased investment in charter schools,” AFC President John Schilling said in a statement, adding that he hoped Congress would push for other forms of choice, including education savings accounts and vouchers for active-duty military families. (DeVos is the former chairwoman of the federation.)

And trying once again to get rid of Title II and after-school programs got the approval of Lindsey Burke, the director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, which backs choice and a small federal footprint in K-12:

However, on the other side, the National Coalition for Public Education said it was “greatly disappointed” in the push to expand private school choice.

“The administration should be focused on strengthening our public schools, which educate 90 percent of our students, rather than promoting private school vouchers. Vouchers divert desperately needed resources away from the public school system to fund the education of a
few voucher students in private, often religious schools,” the coalition, which includes groups like the National PTA and the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

And the AFT savaged the proposed overall spending reduction, with President Randi Weingarten saying this in a statement: “By putting forth a budget that includes the same cruel cuts as last year, Trump, DeVos and Vice President Pence show that they have failed to learn anything.”

This post has been clarified to better explain how this year’s Head Start funding request compares to prior years.

Assistant Editor Alyson Klein and Staff Writer Evie Blad contributed to this post.

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