Nobody paid much attention to President Trump’s 2020 federal budget proposal for education when it was released on Monday. The 2020, K-12 education budget is similar to what Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed last year and also the year before. In both of those years, a Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate increased allocations for core public school programs instead of cutting them, and Congress entirely rejected DeVos’s proposals for vouchers. This year, Democrats, who do not share the President’s priorities, dominate the House of Representatives, while key senators in both parties remain committed to maintaining what is already meager public school funding.
Summarizing proposed budget allocations for K-12 public education, Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa reports: “Title I funding for disadvantaged students, the single-largest federal funding program for public schools, remains flat at $15.9 billion in Trump’s budget pitch. Special education grants to states would also be level-funded at $13.2 billion. Also flat-funded are the English Language Acquisition formula grants at $737.4 million… (T)he office for civil rights would get $125 million, the same as current funding.” Head Start, which is part of the Health and Human Services budget, would also be funded at the 2019 level.
Several important programs are eliminated in the President’s 2020 budget proposal: Title II for teacher staff development, Title IV for students’ academic support and enrichment, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program. DeVos proposed last year that these same programs be eliminated, but Congress preserved the funding.
The proposed education budget would increase the federal Charter Schools Program to $500 million—up by $60 million from last year. The proposed budget would double funding for the School Safety National Activities Program. Betsy DeVos’s proposed new tuition tax credit neo-voucher program is not part of the budget, because, as a tax credit, it does not require an appropriation of dollars. If it were enacted, however, it would reduce the federal revenue stream by $5 billion.
Many of the biggest cuts relate to grants and loans for students pursuing higher education. The NY Times summarizes: “The budget… would eliminate higher education programs, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and subsidized federal Stafford loans, and reduce work-study funding as Education Department officials tweak the program to offer more career-oriented jobs for low-income students.”
What is astounding about the administration’s proposed budget overall—across all departments—is its unapologetic cruelty.
The Washington Post‘s Moriah Balingit and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel quote Education Secretary Betsy DeVos merely repeating her usual talking points: “This budget at its core is about education freedom… Freedom for America’s students to pursue their lifelong learning journeys in the ways and places that work best for them.”
Balingit and Douglas-Gabriel also quote Jim Blew, the Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. Blew is more honest and utterly cold as he describes the administration’s priorities: “We’re coming back again asking for a reduction because the administration believes we need to reduce the amount of discretionary funding for the Education Department… That is based on a desire to have some fiscal discipline and to address some higher-priority needs for the administration around the federal government.”
The Hill‘s Brett Samuels quotes the chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky): “Cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, then cry about the ensuing deficits, then ask for deep cuts in programs that help middle-and lower-income Americans… That’s exactly what this budget does. It’s a very, very cruel-hearted budget… Again, it’s not very much different from what was proposed last year, except it did extend those tax cuts.”
Chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) describes the President’s 2020 budget proposal: “The President’s budget highlights his priorities – unfortunately American families do not appear to be one of those priorities. In order to protect massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest among us, this budget decimates funding for infrastructure, civil works projects, Medicare and Medicaid, and many other critical programs. Instead of investing in our future, this budget takes food from those most in need, makes housing harder to access for those who have been left behind, and ignores the needs of America’s children and working families.”
In an analysis of the President’s budget proposal overall, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains: “President Trump’s 2020 budget… would make poverty more widespread, widen inequality and racial disparities, and increase the ranks of the uninsured. It would also underfund core public services and investments in areas that are important for long term growth. And at the same time that it calls for these extensive budget cuts reportedly out of concern for the deficit, it provides costly tax cuts tilted to those at the top… The budget would permanently extend the 2017 tax law’s tax cuts for individuals including those that confer large tax benefits on high-income taxpayers and heirs to very large estates. This would cost $275 billion in 2028 alone…. Together with the budget’s proposed cuts in Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, and low-income discretionary programs, these policies would worsen income inequality.”
To put the President’s budget for K-12 public schools in context, consider the past year’s wave of teachers’ strikes across the states. While teachers have been protesting what have become noncompetitive salaries and decrying the lack of desperately needed services for their students, they have been trying to move their state legislatures to invest more. The federal contribution to school funding—now 8 percent—is also too low. Last autumn as the school year began, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported: “The largest federal education program, ‘Title I’ funding for high-poverty schools, is 5 percent below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.”
As Trump proposes flat funding this year for Title I, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel relief that he hasn’t suggested cutting this essential program. We ought to be outraged that, during the past decade, federal funding has fallen so far behind—and that President Trump and Betsy DeVos have no intention of doing anything about it.