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President Trump’s Budget, Designed by GOP Austerians, Cuts Programs for Poor

March 16, 2017

As President Trump’s budget specifics become clearer, it is evident that children raised in poverty and college students trying to rise out of poverty will be short-changed while those paying tuition to enroll their children in sectarian schools will benefit. In the meantime, the Office of Civil Rights awaits old on its funding levels— which promise to be diminished given the size of the USDOE cuts the President proposes.

Washington Post writers’ Emma Brown and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel article on the President’s education budget proposal flag his decision to cut programs that support low-income Americans in order to fund his highest public education priority: choice.

The Trump administration is seeking to cut $9.2 billion — or 13.5 percent — from the Education Department’s budget, a dramatic downsizing that would reduce or eliminate grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to ­low-income and first-generation college students.

Along with the cuts, among the steepest the agency has ever sustained, the administration is also proposing to shift $1.4 billion toward one of President Trump’s key priorities: Expanding charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to traditional public schools. His $59 billion education budget for 2018 would include an unprecedented federal investment in such “school choice” initiatives, signaling a push to reshape K-12 education in America.

The president is proposing a $168 million increase for charter schools — 50 percent above the current level — and a new $250 million private-school choice program, which would probably provide vouchers for families to use at private or parochial schools.

Trump also wants an additional $1 billion for Title I, a $15 billion grant program for schools with high concentrations of poor children. The new funds would be used to encourage districts to adopt a controversial form of choice: Allowing local, state and federal funds to follow children to whichever public school they choose.

Brown and Douglas-Gabriel note that these priorities will likely be rebuffed by Democrats and may even find some pushback from the GOP, who rejected the notion of Title One portability when they considered ESSA legislation in 2015.

But the bigger question to me is whether and when colleges and universities and business leaders will speak out against this slashing of funds for college attendance. As Brown and Douglas-Gabriel write:

A host of programs aimed at ­low-income students are slated for cuts. Federal work-study funds that help students work their way through college would be reduced “significantly.” The proposal also calls for nearly $200 million in cuts to federal TRIO and Gear Up programs, which help disadvantaged students in middle and high schools prepare for college.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a $732 million program that provided aid to 1.6 million students in the 2014-15 academic year, is also on the chopping block.

Rather than pour those savings into Pell Grants — which the document describes as a better way to deliver need-based aid — the budget maintains the current funding level for Pell grants and calls for the “cancellation” of $3.9 billion in Pell reserves, money that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had hoped would be used to help students take summer classes.

Employers who are bemoaning the limited skills in the job pool and colleges who rely on students who access these grants should be joining public schools and community colleges in decrying these cuts. As should Mr. Trump’s voters who, presumably, were hoping to gain access to better schooling so they could earn more money.

And among the many mice in the woodpile of cuts is this gem:

In addition, it would shrink or kill 20 programs the administration deemed duplicative or outside the scope of the agency. They include $43 million in grants to colleges for teacher preparation and $66 million in “impact aid” to offset tax revenue losses that communities face when they have federal property within their bounds. 

That impact aid goes mainly to school districts that have military bases. Speaking from my experience as Superintendent when a base closed in the district, the loss of that impact aid was devastating. Local taxpayers either had to dig deeper in their pockets to offset the lost revenues or local parents had to sacrifice class size or programs. Knowing the thinking of the austerity budget crowd, though, I imagine they would suggest that paying teachers less should also be on the table… for implicit in all of these budget cuts is the notion of a race to the bottom for wages in academia and public eduction because “that’s the way businesses would handle it.”

And even with all of these cuts, there are still some to come, and minorities are holding their breath to see what happens next, because:

The budget summary also is silent on the department’s Office for Civil Rights, which many in the civil rights community fear will be targeted for deep cuts.

The President’s budget is clearly devastating for public education, but it is also devastating to the environment, to the State Department’s ability to achieve settlements, and the safety net that supports those born into poverty. There was a time when a President would propose a budget designed to unite people in our country and across the world. Mr. Trump’s budget, with it’s emphasis on military spending and law enforcement and it’s de-emphasis on peace-making, protecting the environment, and helping the needy reinforces the divisive campaign he ran. Here’s hoping the American public will begin  to turn away from division and see the benefits of unity.


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