Trump’s first full education budget: Deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice

Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. 

The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.

DeVos, who has previously derided government, is now leading an agency she views as an impediment to progress.

The budget proposal calls for a net $9.2 billion cut to the department, or 13.6 percent of the spending level Congress approved last month. The cuts would come from eliminating at least 22 programs, some of which Trump outlined in March. Gone, for example, would be $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction.

The documents obtained by The Post — dated May 23, the day the president’s budget is expected to be released — outline the rest of the cuts, including a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The Trump administration would dedicate no money to a fund for student support and academic enrichment that is meant to help schools pay for, among other things, mental-health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, Advanced Placement courses and science and engineering instruction. Congress created the fund, which totals $400 million this fiscal year, by rolling together several smaller programs. Lawmakers authorized as much as $1.65 billion, but the administration’s budget for it in the next fiscal year is zero.

The cuts would make space for investments in choice, including $500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent over current funding. The administration also wants to spend $250 million on “Education Innovation and Research Grants,” which would pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools. It’s not clear how much would be spent on research versus on the vouchers themselves.

There is currently only one federally funded voucher program, in the District of Columbia. A recent Education Department analysis of that program found that after a year in private school, voucher recipients performed worse on standardized tests than their counterparts who remained in public school.

The administration would devote $1 billion in Title I dollars meant for poor children to a new grant program (called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS) for school districts that agree to allow students to choose which public school they attend — and take their federal, state and local dollars with them.

The goal is to do away with neighborhood attendance zones that the administration says trap needy kids in struggling schools. The documents cite Minneapolis (where parents can choose which city school their children attend) and Hartford, Conn. (where students can cross city-suburban lines to attend school) as examples.

But the notion of allowing Title I dollars to follow the student — known as “portability” — is a controversial idea that the Republican-led Senate rejected in 2015. Many Democrats argue that it is a first step toward private-school vouchers and would siphon dollars from schools with high poverty to those in more affluent neighborhoods.

Leaders of historically black colleges and universities had sought an increase in federal funding for their institutions. The administration’s budget proposal would hold funding flat compared to spending levels over the first half of fiscal 2017.

(excerpted from Washington Post 5/17/17)