Capitol Report: June 2017

  • By Della B. Cronin

    The Trump Administration has released its first full-fledged budget proposal, and—as expected—its plans for K-12 education and STEM education programs aren’t great.  The budget proposal calls for a net $9.2 billion cut to the Department of Education, or 13.6 percent of the spending level Congress approved in April.

    Part of the so-called “savings” generated by the cuts would be invested in this administration’s top priority: school choice. The FY 2018 spending would invest 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.  President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have repeatedly said that they want to shrink the federal role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children’s schools.  Reaction from conservative think tanks suggests that the plan falls short on the first goal in service to the second.  New, large federal programs are not in line with those calling for a smaller federal footprint in K-12 education. Some have even likened the plan to the Race to the Top program, which the right characterized as “bribery” for implementation of certain education policies.  

    As was announced in March, the plan would eliminate funding for professional development for classroom teachers under Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act¸ currently funded tat $2.1 billion.  It would also provide no funds for the new Title IV, Part A block grant and would cut funding for career and technical education programs by 15 percent.  Afterschool programs would be gutted as well via the elimination of funding for the $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.  Two of the department’s largest expenditures in K-12 education, special education and Title I funds to help poor children, would remain unchanged compared to federal funding levels in the first half of fiscal 2017. Other cuts include eliminating 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.

    The cuts would make space for investments in choice, including $500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent more than the program’s current funding. The administration would invest $250 million in “Education Innovation and Research Grants,” (the new version of the i3 program), and channel those funds to expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools. 

    The administration is also seeking to overhaul key elements of federal financial aid. The spending proposal would maintain funding for Pell Grants for students in financial need, but it would eliminate more than $700 million in Perkins loans for disadvantaged students; cut work-study funding by almost 50 percent; take a first step toward ending subsidized student loans, for which the government pays interest while the borrower is in school; and end loan forgiveness for public servants. The administration also wants to replace five income-driven student loan repayment plans with a single plan.

    While the White House was busy putting the final touches on this plan, the House Education and the Workforce Committee was unanimously passing a bill that would revise the Federal Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.  That bill, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353), updates federal CTE policies to help more students gain the knowledge and skills they need to compete for in-demand jobs, according to its supporters. The proposal is largely identical to legislation the House of Representatives passed in September 2016 by a vote of 405 to 5.  Sponsors of the bill hope it will be on the floor of the House soon.

    At the state level, states are filing their ESSA plans on a rolling basis, and Secretary DeVos recently announced that 17 submitted plans are ready for peer review.  The remaining plans will be submitted in September.  September.  It seems so far away now. It will be here soon enough.